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Mariya Gabriel: The initiative WIfi4EU will enable all European citizens to benefit from the advantages of next-generation connectivity

The European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society emphasized the importance of what digital transformation means for the society and how everyone can benefit from the initiatve WIfi4EU
  • March 14, 2018 13:00
  • Author Monika Dimitrova
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Source: Monika Dimitrova

Ms. Gabriel, for whom is addressed the initiative WIfi4EU?

I want to start by saying that this initiative is in direct benefit to the citizens and business, and will be felt by them right after its launch. The European Commission wants to encourage free access to wireless internet for citizens and visitors in public places such as parks, gardens, public buildings, libraries, health centers etc. WIfi4EU is a very vivid expression of our pursuit. Everyone will be able to take advantage of the connection, no matter where he lives or what his income is. With this initiative, we have the chance to offer to all citizens a unique and free way to access the Internet but also to cross the tourist flows and, with added digital innovation services, to promote our cultural heritage. This means that, for example, a not so popular but significant tourist attraction in a small Bulgarian village can be seen by the citizens of the largest European capital. The initiative will enable all European citizens to benefit from the advantages of next-generation connectivity. Our goal is to simplify network access - after initial registration, users will be able automatically to connect to any WiFi4EU access point in Europe. In this way people from different European cities will be able to connect with each other. So WIfi4EU is for everyone.

Who will benefit from the program? Are there limits on the number of municipalities that can apply?   

From the high-speed internet connection will benefit residents and visitors of thousands of local communities across the EU. To the WiFi4EU scheme can apply municipalities, and by 2020 we have planned to cover between 6 000 and 8 000 local communities across the EU. Only municipalities and associations consisting of municipalities can apply for the first call for applications. Here I want to pay attention to something important - associations of municipalities can register several municipalities to participate but will have to send separately the final application to each municipality included in their registration. This is because the vouchers will be provided to the individual municipality as a beneficiary. Each municipality has only one right to a voucher for the entire duration of the initiative. Therefore, municipalities selected to receive vouchers within an invitation can not apply for subsequent call of proposals, while municipalities that have applied and have not received a voucher can try again if there is next invitation.

What are they responsible for?

In a few days, we will launch the special portal available in all EU languages. Municipalities can register on it in advance, which means before the application scheme to be opened. They have to complete a simple registration form and follow the instructions below, which will be very easily explained. It is important to note that on the portal can also register suppliers, indicating in which countries and regions they can provide their services. Thus, the beneficiaries will be able to use the list drawn up and select a contractor once they have won funding. After announcing the call for proposals, the municipalities already registered have simply to press the "Submit" button on their application.

Will the procedure be complex, what are the criteria? Will small municipalities also be able to cope with the application?

Creating a simplified application form was my big goal. With my team, we worked hard to get the easiest to fill out and understandable form. The registration process will be maximally facilitated so that all municipalities can apply in their chosen language without the need for an intermediary. Municipalities will not be required to include a technical design or documentation for the Wi-Fi network which will be installed. So they will not need a preliminary cost estimate from a provider to apply for a voucher. For the first time, we have such a simplified form for a European program, and the aim is also the smallest European municipality to not have difficulty with applying. 

When will the first call be published?

We are now in the final phase of preparation and probably around March 20th the registration portal will open. It will remain open for 6-8 weeks to allow municipalities sufficient time to register before the call for applications. Another thing has to be taken into account and to make difference - at the beginning there is a registration period, after that the scheme opens itself. The date will be announced when the registration portal opens, with a clock counting the remaining time. I would like to pay attention to another important detail - the principle will be "first come, first served". The municipalities will be selected in the order of submission of applications on the basis of the date and time of sending their applications and NOT of their registration.

Is there a quota allocation for EU Member States?

The WiFi4EU scheme will be geographically balanced, so that high-speed connectivity can benefit residents and visitors of thousands of local communities across the EU. Under the first call, the number of vouchers per Member State may not exceed 8% of the invitation budget.

What is the duration of the project, within what period will European citizens benefit from this service?

The municipality which has won a voucher will be able to provide citizens with free internet at the access point within 3 years. Where this point will be located, in what public place, the municipality itself has the freedom to decide. It only needs to be in an area where free wireless is not available. Public administrations and other bodies with a public mission will be able to promote local digital services: e-government, e-health, e-tourism. All this is for the benefit of the people.

How much is the WIfi4EU budget?

The budget is in total of 120 million euro for the period 2017-2019. These funds will be provided to the approved candidates to be supported with the installation of modern Wi-Fi equipment in lively public places. The equipment must then be maintained by the beneficiary for a further three years. Today the connected Wi-Fi society is becoming a key option and I encourage municipalities to receive their vouchers.