European Union Promises Free Internet by 2020

The project is formally being called WIFI4EU (Wi-Fi for EU) and its stated goal is to connect every person and town within the European Union to the Internet by the year 2020. According to the The EU Commission, the project will take roughly three years to complete and will cost EU taxpayers about €120 million ($135 million) through the year 2019.

As reported by Catalin Cimpanu of Softpedia on September 16th 2016, if the EU Parliament votes to proceed, “The plan is for EU member states to use the funds to purchase and install Wi-Fi hotspots across major urban areas.” To spread internet to the highest amount of people as possible, the plan would install WiFi connection points throughout “public buildings, health centers, parks or squares.” According to estimates by the Commission, this strategy would be implemented in anywhere from “6,000 and 8,000 local communities.

The report goes on to specify that this “project does not include bandwidth costs, which will be left to local authorities, along with any maintenance expenses” and “EU towns that already feature a private or public Wi-Fi network can’t apply for funds.” When the project is completed by 2019, the EU Commission experts suggest that the added internet infrastructure “should be able to support between 40 to 50 million Wi-Fi connections per day, and should be available to both locals and tourists alike.

The plan to install free internet to every corner of the EU, particularly the poorest rural areas, comes as part of a much larger Internet Connectivity Plan, which promises to support basic 5G coverage for every cell phone in Europe by 2025. More specifically, the goal of The Internet Connectivity Plan’ is to connect every major city EU to a 5G network by 2020. Then, “by 2025, the EU wants all urban areas, major roads, and railways to support uninterrupted 5G coverage. Also by 2025, the EU hopes to have 100 Mbps Internet connections in all European homes, in both urban and rural areas.

The latest EU proposal also comes on the heels of a different initiative proposed by Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg to spread internet access to every person on Earth. For the better part of the last 2 years, Zuckerberg has literally been investing hundreds of millions to make this a reality. Along the same lines as the EU and Zuckerberg, in July 2016, for the first time in history, the United Nations offciall declared internet access an essential human right.

In a UN press release dated July 1, 2016, Article 19 of the document read “We are disappointed that democracies like South Africa, Indonesia, and India voted in favour of these hostile amendments to weaken protections for freedom of expression online…A human rights based approach to providing and expanding Internet access, based on states’ existing international human rights obligations, is essential to achieving the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, and no state should be seeking to slow this down.

Unfortunately, the progressive approach being pushed by the EU, UN and Zuckerberg to spread internet access across the globe has not been embraced by everyone. China remains the most censored country in the entire world, countries like Egypt/Turkey/Ethiopia/Pakistan regularly ban the most popular social media channels and even countries like India/France have worked to ban free access internet access to internet in the past.

The logistics of the plan aside, there is also a hidden danger to the EU’s that must be discussed.  This is the danger that a Government run WiFi network, such as the EU is proposing here, could essentially become the largest surveillance network the world has ever seen.

In a previous article discussing the demise of the The Tor Project, Alternative Medi4 explained how anyone who owns the exit nodes of a network can see all the information coming across that network. Whomever controls the exit nodes controls the information and make no mistake, as the EU itself would own all of these internet routers, the EU would own every persons internet connection and all of the data that goes across it.

If the EU connects every home and every person in the European Union to the same network, they would have a direct visual into the online activity of every person in the European Union at the same time.This is dangerous because the government would essentially be setting itself up to collect the data from their citizens and this network could – ipso facto – become the largest data collection system in world history.

This network would also eliminate the need for government agencied to provide search warrants to search peoples personal data, because the EU would already own all the date through the internet connections. Citizens online data would already be on government servers.

While I support the EU’s initiative to bring free WiFi to poor communities, as an internet activist and privacy advocate, I am fearful what the program could eventually lead to. I worry that government controlled internet would set a dangerous example and actually set internet privacy rights backwards.

This article (European Union Promises Free Internet by 2020) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article using a creative commons license with attribution to Brian Dunn and Alternative Medi4

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