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?
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Social media law
After a public debate in Germany, a new law on social media came into effect in October. The legislation imposes heavy fines on social media companies, such as Facebook, for failing to take down posts containing hate speech. Facebook and other social media companies have complained about the law, saying that harsh rules might lead to unnecessary censorship.
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 2017, 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 launched the legal proceedings against Facebook in response to revelations made by former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, Edward Snowden.
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.
Twitter bans Russia-linked accounts
Many politicians and media outlets blame Russia's influence for Donald Trump's election victory in 2016. Moscow reportedly used Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Instagram to shape public opinion on key issues. In October 2017, Twitter suspended over 2,750 accounts due to alleged Russian propaganda. The platform also banned ads from RT (formerly Russia Today) and the Sputnik news agency.
Facebook announces propaganda-linked tool
With social media under pressure for allowing alleged Russian meddling, Facebook announced a new project to combat such efforts in November 2017. The upcoming page will give users a chance to check if they "liked" or followed an alleged propaganda account on Facebook or Instagram. Meanwhile, Facebook has come under fire for not protecting user data in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

ls/kms (AFP, dpa)

Date 13.09.2017