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EU set to launch thousands of free WiFi hotspots

The EU's top bodies have agreed to provide free internet access in thousands of cities and towns across Europe. The "WiFi4EU" bid would see public places, like parks and libraries, install EU-funded hotspots by 2020.

The free internet scheme would apply to all member states, officials said on Monday, after the EU parliament, the EU Council, and the EU Commission reached an informal agreement on the plan.

The plan would focus on places where connectivity is limited and for people who have trouble accessing the Internet otherwise. The so-called WiFi4EU initiative is part of a larger EU overhaul on communication.

"WiFi4EU is a welcome first step, but much more needs to be done to achieve high-speed connectivity across the whole EU territory," said Andrus Ansip, the EU Commission's vice president on Digital Single Market, according to the German DPA news agency.

According to the deal, the EU is set to fund the project with some 120 million euros ($133.6 million) over the next two years. This money would be used to support installation of "state-of-the-art" WiFi equipment for at least 6,000 to 8,000 local communities, the EU Commission said on its website.

The exact details on the budget are yet to be finalized.

'Every village and every city'

Under the terms of the scheme, public bodies like hospitals, libraries, parks and other community centers would apply for funding for a local wireless access point. The EU would provide vouchers and other tools to cover up to 100 percent of the cost.

The local public body would than be responsible for maintaining the connection for at least three years.

The EU would only accept projects which would not "duplicate existing private or public internet connections," according to the EU Commission.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker first announced the plans for WiFi4EU in a 2016 speech, saying that the goal was to "equip every European village and every city with free wireless internet ac­cess around the main centers of public life by 2020."

The scheme is set to begin operations by the end of 2017.

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