According to the president of the EU’s executive body, Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU is in trouble. Between the refugees and the terrorists and the finances, Juncker says, the EU is facing an “existential crisis,” and what Europe really needs right now is… more internet.
All the cool kids are online, Juncker implies, and internet access empowers people. While he’s also in favor of logging all border crossings and giving that information straight to Europol, he wants to permanently kill roaming charges and spread out internet connectivity via free public Wi-Fi, so that it reaches everywhere people spend their time. He wants to do this by 2020. To that end, he’s got a €120M grant laid out for municipalities to use for internet infrastructure, and the plan is to start writing checks by the end of this year.
The goal was announced in Juncker’s annual State of the EU address. Everyone should be able to benefit from being connected to the internet, he argues, no matter where they live or how much money they have. But it’s not quite as easy as the handwaving suggests.
“We propose today,” said Juncker, “to equip every European village and every city with free wireless internet access around the main centres of public life by 2020.” A factsheet for his Wifi4EU plan says that it applies to parks, squares, libraries and public buildings. Here’s the short and sweet:
But Juncker’s plan also makes it clear that the commission intends to spend a maximum of €120M to install the necessary equipment — presumably, the first €120M, whereafter the municipalities will have to pony up for the rest. Municipalities will also probably have to shoulder maintenance costs and all the other ancillary expenses. When you think about the fact that there are 27 member states in the EU, if it’s doled out equally, each country will only get about €4M, and that great big grant starts to sound more like a chore. And that’s ignoring all the security problems and honeypotting that will immediately swamp the system. Woe betide the Wifi4EU network staff.
Juncker went on to talk a big game about copyright protections for content that would be served on that omnipresent public internet connection. “Artists and creators are our crown jewels,” he said, continuing with comments that artists, authors and other content creators should be paid fairly for their work. How does he intend to ensure this? Again Juncker breezed right on past the how. But what he’s alluding to is a controversial new set of copyright laws that involve gems like the “Google tax,” which would allow publishers to charge aggregators for publishing snippets of their article content, and the “YouTube rule,” which requires content hosts to screen for copyright infringement. The latter seems like a direct kick in the shins to the safe harbor principle of the DMCA. Europe needs more internet, evidently, but it better be the right internet.