Although talks are still needed to work out some of the fine details, on May 29th the European Parliament, Council, and Commission have finally reached an agreement to provide free Wi-Fi hotspots across the European Union. The initiative, called WiFi4EU, was first announced back in 2016 by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker as part of a push to overhaul EU telecom rules. In theory, the goal of WiFi4EU is to provide free wireless internet in the primary public access areas of "every European village and every city" by 2020. The agreement effectively sets aside a committed €120 million in vouchers to cover the costs of cutting-edge equipment required to enable the public free Wi-Fi services in question. Those are set to be made available at 6,000 to 8,000 districts across all of the Member States of the EU. Once the deal is finalized, local leaders from each area will be able to apply for funding to cover those costs, while each municipality will cover the costs of the network connections themselves. As far as applications are concerned, the process is intended to be fairly straightforward and "non-bureaucratic," according to the European Commission.
The underlying idea for WiFi4EU is to help local leaders to meet the ever-growing need to connect for Europeans. That should, in theory, boost Europe's competitiveness overall. As described by an associated fact sheet it will provide tools to help those leaders to better facilitate for "e-Government, e-Health, e-Tourism." The initiative itself is part of the Digital Single Market strategy for Europe, which is effectively a push to ensure that all Europeans have some kind of access to wireless internet and that the market for access across Europe is a singular market. As further illustrated by the Vice-President of the Commission, Andrus Ansip, the ultimate goal is to fully connect and bring further uniformity to the continent and the Member States of the EU. Additionally, there is a strong focus on underserved areas, with regard to internet access in general. WiFi4EU only represents a small piece of that overall puzzle by setting up free, readily accessible access points in parks, libraries, public buildings, and other similar areas.
Beyond WiFi4EU, the Commission and participating members hope to "achieve high-speed connectivity across the whole EU territory, according to Ansip. That means focusing on where efforts need to be made in terms of spectrum coordination and "stimulating investments in the high-capacity networks that Europe needs." Ansip and others see WiFi4EU as a high-visibility step in the correct direction. It builds on earlier motions which have already been undertaken. On June 17th of this year, agreements will take effect that essentially put an end to roaming charges for EU travelers. By early next year, content portability will be addressed in early 2018, allowing European travelers to maintain access to movies, music, e-books, and games they have subscribed to in their home country. Finally, the 700 MHz band has been added to the usable spectrum to assist in ushering in the 5G era despite some complaints still existing about licensing limitations.
That said, and as already mentioned, some of the specifics for the WiFi4EU initiative are still being worked out. For example, sourcing the funds to put the system in place is still very much up in the air. Further discussion on the matter is pending completion of a review of the current Multiannual Financial Framework program and cities considering inclusion won't actually be able to apply until that is worked out. It will be up to the European Parliament and Council to continue working on those details. Just about anything could change between now and whenever a final agreement can finally be reached and it is probably a safe bet, as with nearly all politically-derived agreements, that some of the smaller details will change over time – at very least. Bearing that in mind, Europe does seem to be well on track to meet its 2020 goals if it can manage to stay its course.