A budget of €120 million for this new scheme was approved with 582 votes to 98 against, with nine abstentions, by the European Parliament on Tuesday.
The funds will be used in a "geographically balanced" way in more than 6,000 communities in the Member States, on a first-come, first-served basis. As part of the initiative, municipal administrations, libraries and other public bodies will be able to apply for funding in 2018 for the installation of local and wireless access points.
In order to be eligible, public bodies should cover operating costs for at least three years and offer free, easy to access and secure connectivity to users. Also, EU funds can only be used if commercial advertising or the use of personal data for commercial purposes is excluded.
MEPs from Flanders were divided on the new scheme. MEP Tom Vandenkendelaere (CD & V) welcomed the initiative which in his view will have a particularly important role for rural areas.
"Just one in three Europeans in rural areas now enjoys a stable and fast internet connection. In a world that is increasingly connected, from reading the newspaper to banking activities, the digital divide is in fact a social divide,” said the Flemish Christian Democrat.
MEP Anneleen Van Bossuyt (N-VA) was critical and is of the opinion that the budget is too limited for such an initiative. She also speaks of a possible waste of €120 million of public money.
"In Flanders, we do no longer believe in free services," said Van Bossuyt. "Europe needs to invest in 5G mobile connections and ultra-fast internet."
The Brussels Times