EU lawmakers back free Wi-Fi scheme

In its quest to provide internet access to every European citizen, the EU Parliament has backed a plan to finance thousands of free Wi-Fi hotspots. EU lawmakers said up to 8,000 access points will be created by 2020.

The European Parliament on Tuesday voted in favor of the "WiFi4EU" scheme, which will finance the creation of up to 8,000 free WiFi hot spots across Europe by 2020.

The European Parliament said the Wi-Fi hot spots will be located at centers of public life and public sector bodies, including parks, libraries and hospitals.

Financing amounting to 120 million euros ($144 million) will be provided to public bodies on a "first come, first served" basis, and will be distributed in a "geographically balanced manner" with a focus on places with limited connectivity, according to the EU's legislative body.

'Strong political vision'

Carlos Zorrinho, a Portuguese member of European Parliament and chief rapporteur of the resolution, said the resolution marked a landmark moment in Brussels' quest to better connect citizens across the bloc.

Read more: Check-up for the internet

"The WiFi4EU Initiative was a strong political vision that will soon become a concrete reality throughout the EU, assuring that, regardless of where they live or how much they earn, every European benefits from high quality Wi-Fi connectivity," said Zorrinho.

"This will improve the European Gigabit Society, rendering it economically competitive and socially inclusive," which forms part of the EU's bloc-wide communications overhaul.

The scheme will help establish WiFi access points in places where there is limited connectivity

Bloc-wide strategy

In a bid to curb concerns of data privacy, Mariya Gabriel, the European Commissioner in charge of digital economy and society, said any personal data collected during use may not be used for commercial purposes and no private advertising may be offered through the access points.

Read more: German media groups to form data alliance

The WiFi4EU scheme is one facet of the EU's bid to modernize communication and access across the bloc. The Wi-Fi hotspots financed through the scheme are expected to encourage local authorities to develop and promote their own digital services, including e-government and e-health.

In order to be eligible for the financing scheme, which will pay for equipment and installation costs, the public sector body must pay for the internet subscription and maintenance of the equipment for three years.

Free speech or illegal content?
Whether hate speech, propaganda or activism, governments across the globe have upped efforts to curb content deemed illegal from circulating on social networks. From drawn out court cases to blanket bans, DW examines how some countries try to stop the circulation of illicit content while others attempt to regulate social media.
Social media law
In Germany, Justice Minister Heiko Maas has proposed a law that would impose heavy fines on social media companies, such as Facebook, for failing to take down posts containing hate speech. But Facebook has pushed back, saying "preventing and combating hate speech and fake news is a public task that the state cannot avoid." The law is currently being reviewed by a German parliamentary committee.
Right to be forgotten
In 2014, the European Court of Justice ruled that European citizens had the right to request search engines, such Google and Bing, remove "inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive" search results linked to their name. Although Google has complied with the ruling, it has done so reluctantly, warning that it could make the internet as "free as the world's least free place."
Blanket ban
In May, Ukraine imposed sanctions on Russian social media platforms and web services. The blanket ban affected millions of Ukrainian citizens, many of whom were anxious about their data. The move prompted young Ukrainians to protest on the streets, calling for the government to reinstate access to platforms that included VKontakte (VK), Russia's largest social network.
Safe Harbor
In 2015, the European Court of Justice ruled that Safe Harbor, a 15-year-old pact between the US and EU that allowed the transfer of personal data without prior approval, was effectively invalid. Austrian law student Max Schrems had launched the legal proceedings against Facebook in response to revelations made by former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, Edward Snowden.
Regulation
In China, the use of social media is highly regulated by the government. Beijing has effectively blocked access to thousands of websites and platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Instead, China offers its citizens access to local social media platforms, such as Weibo and WeChat, which boast hundreds of millions of monthly users.

ls/kms (AFP, dpa)

Date 13.09.2017