Europe, free wifi for all on arrival
The European Commission has invested 133 million euros, over eight thousand municipalities that have obtained the funds to create free wifi networks in public places.
Last year the call for tenders that marks the last chapter of Wifi4Eu, the aid program launched by the European Commission in 2018 to finance the installation of public and free wifi networks in the municipalities of the old continent. An overall plan of 133.9 million euros, 13 more so far compared to the 120 budgeted in 2017, which Brussels is already distributing, in the form of 15 thousand euros vouchers, among eight thousand municipalities of the 27 states of the Union, plus Iceland , Norway and Great Britain. Germany, Italy and Spain are the nations that have scrapped the largest number of bonuses so far. And according to the preliminary calculations of the last call, which awards 947 vouchers, Rome and Madrid will still be the most awarded.
From a European study on the level of digitization, municipalities are hungry for connections. In the last call, the requests were nine times higher than the vouchers available. And in all Wifi4Eu races, the funds disappeared in the blink of an eye. And “in countries such as Croatia, Bulgaria, Greece, Portugal and Lithuania, more than 70% of municipalities have won a voucher,” says Franco Accordino, head of the unit responsible for Wifi4Eu at the European Commission’s Directorate-General Connect.
The first hotspots in public places, such as municipal offices, libraries, squares, museums, health facilities and parks, have been turned on. Compared to the 2,800 municipalities that won the first call, dated November 2018, in Brussels there are 1,500 networks already completed or in the delivery phase. In Pila, in the province of Vercelli, the works for the 12 hotspots (between external and internal areas) were completed “in July 2019, in time to provide service to tourists last summer”, explains Mayor Enrico Cottura.
There are 8,067 vouchers assigned throughout Europe in the first three races, of which the second, with 3,442 awards, was the most substantial. After Germany, Italy and Spain, which have always obtained the best vouchers, the municipalities of France (787), Romania (617), Croatia (448) and Poland (443) have benefited in large numbers from Wifi4Eu. Iceland is at the bottom of the ranking, with five vouchers, preceded by Luxembourg (21), Denmark (28), Malta (30) and the United Kingdom (33).
In Italy, about 11% of municipalities have obtained a Wifi4Eu voucher. From small villages, such as Esino Lario (in the Lecco area) or Torresina (in the province of Vercelli), to the pearls of tourism and art, such as San Gimignano, Alberobello or Favignana, up to provincial capitals, such as L’Aquila, Catanzaro, Catania, Treviso and Sondrio. In the center of Valtellina, the 14 wifi hotspots, created by Rfcom Wireless, have been active since last October in a park and in the Mountain Museum in the Castle of Masegra.
The Lombard municipalities are those that have obtained the most aid (167), followed by the neighbors of Piedmont and those of Campania. At the level of the provinces, however, it is Cuneo that has received the most vouchers (53). One of the most attentive observers of the initiative comes from the area: Michele Pianetta, deputy mayor of Villanova Mondovì (among the winners) and vice president of the National Association of Italian Municipalities (Anci) of Piedmont. Then come the provinces of Salerno (37) and Bergamo (53). There are also those who have not applied: zero applications from the areas of Rovigo, Massa and Carrara, Prato, Arezzo, Ragusa, Sassari and Cagliari.
The Wifi4Eu tender was organized with a temperate “who comes first, best accommodates” system. So the vouchers were assigned to those who requested them first, but establishing a maximum and a minimum threshold for each country in order not to leave anyone speechless. The winning municipalities must offer an open network, without advertising or authentication, in a public place; guarantee at least 30 megabits per second (Mbps); use the identification mark; maintain service for three years. The voucher covers the hardware and software costs, while the telephone subscription and maintenance are paid by the town hall. In Segrate, for example, all the points where the public wifi service is provided are physically connected by optical fiber with a network owned by the Municipality.
The voucher winners, however, do not see the money. They choose an accredited supplier from Brussels, who after the works gets reimbursed directly from the Commission. The sum is fixed and “was established on the basis of a study of the European market from which it emerged as a fair price for the installation of 10 wifi access points”, explains Accordino. And since in the end “the average number of access points installed is higher than 10”, observes the expert, this shows that Wifi4Eu pushes investments in networks, so much so that “Municipalities are generally motivated to install a larger number of hotspots” .
The European program aims precisely to detach users from the need to grant data in exchange for access to a private network, such as those of shops or clubs. A rule that is the same throughout the Union. “In the city we already had a public wifi”, observes the deputy mayor of Bassano, but what changes with Wifi4Eu is that now “the service has all the features to become a single wifi at European level”.