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EC offers cities Wi-Fi vouchers in €120m drive for free public internet access

The European Commission (EC) is inviting municipal authorities to apply for €15,000 vouchers to finance Wi-Fi equipment and installation in public spaces. Vouchers worth €17.75 million in total will be made available to 1,183 municipalities in European Union (EU) member states in the next two years.

The EC wants to connect “every European village and every city with free wireless internet access around the main centres of public life by 2020,” said EC president Jean-Claude Juncker. The call for funding applications is the first of five that will be published in the period to 2020 as part of the EC’s broader €120 million WiFi4EU drive to fund public free Wi-Fi in up to 8,000 municipalities by 2020.

Funding is available to local authorities in EU member states, and also Norway and Iceland.

Funding will only be provided for networks that do not duplicate comparable Wi-Fi services. Recipients of the €15,000 vouchers are required to offer secure Wi-Fi services, free-of-charge and without adverts, for at least three years. Costs for maintaining the network will be covered by the city authorities.

EC commissioner for the digital economy Mariya Gabriel commented: “Local communities will be empowered to bring connectivity closer to citizens, allowing them to fully benefit from the endless opportunities of digitisation. It is a concrete step towards the realisation of the Digital Single Market.”

Since going live on March 20, over 17,000 municipalities have registered on the WiFi4EU portal to be eligible to apply for funding. Selection is based on a ‘first-come first-served’ basis. Each country will obtain a minimum of 15 and maximum of 95 vouchers.

EC vice president for the digital single market Andrus Ansip urged the European Parliament and Council to conclude work on the proposed telecoms code to ensure high-speed connectivity across the whole of the EU. “This includes Europe-wide coordination of spectrum, and forcefully stimulating investments in the high-capacity networks that Europe needs.”

The EC has increased its Horizon 2020 research and innovation funding to €1.5 billion for the period through to the end of 2020, as it attempts to raise €20 billion from the European governments and private enterprises to stimulate the artificial intelligence (AI) industry in the region. The EC expects its new funds to trigger an additional €2.5 billion of funding from existing public-private partnerships in the related fields of big data and robotics.

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