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It’s looking more likely everyone in the EU will get free wifi—except those in the UK, thanks to Brexit

A man looks at his mobile phone in Shoreditch, London,
Reuters/Stefan Wermuth
Going the wrong way.
By Joon Ian Wong
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

European Union member states are on their way to getting free wifi in public spaces like libraries, parks, and town squares after a proposal from European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker passed its first administrative hurdle.

Juncker’s proposal is to roll out free, high-speed wifi for “every European village and every city” by 2020. The European Council approved the proposal last Friday (Dec. 2), just months after it was mooted by Juncker. The scheme must also be approved by the European Parliament, which is made of directly elected representatives from member states, before it’s adopted as a EU-wide regulation.

The EU has quite a bit of cash to spend on this project: It’s setting aside €120 million ($129 million) to pay for infrastructure. Any local government body across the EU can apply for a slice of that funding, up to €20,000 per community served. The EU expects up to 8,000 communities to get the free public wifi, with all using the “Wifi4EU” network name, from the scheme.

Of course, by the time Europe’s parks and squares are festooned with wifi routers, the United Kingdom might be out of the EU. That means the regulation won’t apply to British public spaces—just like free mobile roaming.

That said, the UK isn’t doing too badly right now when it comes to free wifi. Many local authorities already offer free wifi at local libraries, according to a survey by the Greater London Authority (pdf), the city’s main administrative body. Additionally, free wifi can be had at many public museums. Some London boroughs also have free public wifi supplied by private companies, including the financial district and Westminster.

London’s patchwork of wifi networks isn’t in the same league as European cities like Helsinki. Visitors and residents of the Finnish capital enjoy high-speed internet without even having to give up an email address. The EU plan calls for speeds of at least 30 Mbps, which puts it on par with Helsinki speeds. That’s something anyone who’s ever struggled with a crawling internet connection can get behind.

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