Juncker promises free EU-wide Wi-Fi in public spaces and backing for 5G by 2020
Before the end of 2020, European Union citizens should be able to use free wireless access to the internet in the parks, squares, libraries and public buildings they use.
The commitment was made this week by the head of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, who also says Brussels wants to see at least one city in every EU member state to be running a next-generation 5G mobile network by the same deadline.
“We propose today to equip every European village and every city with free wireless internet access around the main centres of public life by 2020,” he stated.
That’s needed, he went on, because digital is "permeating every aspect of life", so there should be no digital divide across the Union: "Everyone benefiting from connectivity means that it should not matter where you live or how much you earn," he said.
However, commentators quoted by the BBC expressed scepticism over the commitment, which is only being funded modestly by the EU - €120m (£102m).
That fund will over cover installation of the basic hardware, it seems, so local government will have to cover subscription costs, maintenance and other expenses.
BBC Online quotes one such sceptic, Mark Newman, chief analyst at the telecoms consultancy ConnectivityX, as pointing out that: "In many towns and cities, people can already find free Wi-Fi on the High Street, so I would question whether frugal councils will really see it as a priority to deliver free Wi-Fi in all their buildings and squares.”
Critics also threw doubt on the 5G pledge, as that won’t be rolled out until 2018 at the earliest, and due to Brussels's past form on such big comms commitments - such as its slow progress on ending roaming charges.
Beyond that, by 2025, Juncker’s speech called for a minimum download speed of 100Mbps for all European households and minimum download and upload speeds of 1Gbps for all hospitals, administrations and other public services reliant on digital technologies.