A scheme to help local authorities offer free Wi-Fi hotspots in parks, squares, hospitals, libraries and other public spaces across the EU has received political backing from EU telecoms ministers and MEPs.
The WiFi4EU scheme was proposed by the Commission just three months ago but the swift political agreement means that between 6,000 and 8,000 local authorities could apply for a share of the €120million (£101m) to help them fund the necessary equipment before the end of 2017.
A grant allocated in the form of vouchers will be used to purchase and install state-of-the art equipment, ie local wireless access points, while the public authority will cover the running costs of the connection itself.
Only projects which do not duplicate existing private or public internet connections are eligible for funding to ensure that the financial assistance does not distort competition or deter private investment.
The WiFi4EU scheme will be disbursed in a geographically balanced manner, so that high-speed connections can benefit both residents and visitors in hundreds of local communities across the EU.
The local authority or other public body offering the connection will also be able to use the portal to provide easy access to their digital services.
As soon as the WiFi4EU scheme is formally approved by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, the first call for projects will be launched. The aim is to have the scheme's budget agreed and the technical work finalised in time to have the scheme in place by the end of 2017.