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Wifi4EU – A contribution to a Progressive Digital Union

Carlos Zorrinho
Member of the European Parliament

Digital connection as a means for social inclusion. In what way can the Wifi4EU initiative ensure fully participative access to the digital economy for European citizens?

The Digital Union, the Digital Single Market and the energy transaction process are all critical elements for the modernisation of the European economy, as well as for its sustainable and competitive development.

This modernisation is not a technocratic procedure; it is a process that needs to be based on our planet’s sustainability and on our citizens. To achieve this, citizens need to be involved and regain their trust in the European project. We also need to reinforce the values of democracy, social inclusion and European leadership.

Towards a European Gigabit Society

The Wifi4EU initiative represents a contribution to the design of the Digital Union and the Digital Single Market framework. The main goal is to develop an inclusive European Gigabit Society, meeting the specific needs of citizens and companies.

Technologies and digital applications – designed to make life easier – are increasingly present in our daily lives. At the same time, these tools have divided society into two poles: those who manage to keep up with and walk alongside technological development, and those who are overwhelmed by the so-called ‘Information Society’.

This digital rupture – amongst other aspects – has contributed to an increase in income inequality, which in turn compromises the security, quality of life and dignity of billions of people all over the world, as well as in Europe. Increasing availability of access to digital services and public interest content generates a double level of exclusion for those who, for economic reasons or because of a lack of knowledge or specific skills, cannot have access to them.

Connectivity to fight exclusion

It is crucial to fight against this process of double exclusion in order to guarantee the continued development of our democratic society, as well to uphold the universal access principle for all European citizens. This would also boost the definition of information society and contribute to an inclusive, transparent and equal digital globalisation.

How can the Wifi4EU initiative achieve all of these goals? I am conscious of the fact that it is not an easy challenge. Many people think that the private sector should be in charge of dealing with our market’s needs. Others argue that, due to the subsidiary principle, the EU should stay away from the process. Moreover, the limited resources allocated to this initiative constitute a restriction about which we may need to be concerned.

However, the potential for this initiative to promote citizenship and consolidate on the European Gigabit Society – making it more democratic and inclusive – is an important reason for investing in the project.

The Wifi4EU initiative is a pilot project that will serve as a reference point for the development of new inclusive network platforms; one that boasts free access to the internet whilst simultaneously demonstrating resilience against rapid changes in technology. This initiative is also an opportunity to develop the concept of a European Digital Identity, thanks to the European values that bring together both solutions for citizens and new opportunities for companies and content creators.

Internet access to generate growth

Because of this, it will be possible to reinforce local digital ecosystems and deepen the connection between the European Union and its citizens. Moreover, this initiative creates opportunities to boost 5G networks and generates more investment, employment and growth within the EU.

The project is still being debated in every European institution involved in the legislative procedure. My opinion, however, as the European Parliament’s rapporteur in charge of this file, is that the final version should provide: high-speed internet access and a high-quality user experience; a valid EU-wide authentication system in line with  the “one login only” scheme; a simplified application system between public entities and authorities; a balanced geographical distribution; and the guarantee of digital cohesion and inclusion. In addition, national entities should allocate national and structural funds to support the project, whilst guaranteeing that there is no overlap with other public or private seminal schemes in the same territory.

Wifi4EU is an ambitious, visionary and risky project, but this is also a reason to move forward with it. With initiatives like this, we can bring the true meaning of the EU back to its citizens by making the union globally stronger, more inclusive and more powerful when it comes to accessing high-speed network services. This will also contribute to making the Union a humanist and progressive leader within the new framework of globalisation.

Photo ©Bidu

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