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Fourth time lucky for free Berlin WiFi?

Tom Barfield · 21 Oct 2014, 17:20

Published: 21 Oct 2014 17:20 GMT+02:00

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Ask Stefan Gelbhaar, Green party senator and spokesman for traffic, media and internet policy, how likely it is that there will be free WiFi available for Berliners next year and he scoffs.

“We've been trying to do that in Berlin for seven years,” he says. “I'm sceptical and I'm not getting my hopes up.”

He's talking about a fresh call for business proposals which Björn Böhning, head of the Berlin Senate Chancellery, wants to launch in November. 

Böhning wants to install the first hotspots at the beginning of 2015 and eventually give all Berliners, in the centre of the city at least, free internet access.

In response to a parliamentary question from Gelbhaar, Böhning said that the Berlin government would offer private-sector partners a total of €170,000 to cover start-up costs, including rent-free space for their equipment in city buildings and free electricity to run it.

“For the first time, we're offering a financial incentive that costs less than buying a whole network,” he said.

Different providers will be able to bid to cover different areas, as the Senate is aiming for the "most widespread, comprehensive coverage possible, especially in central areas”.

Böhning added that the city's district councils and publicly-owned businesses, including transport company BVG, were all on board with the plan and prepared to offer the space.

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But companies providing internet access will still need to find a way to make money to pay for the data that Berliners will use – and the equipment necessary to operate the estimated 5,000 hotspots it would take to cover the inner city.

Previous attempts to offer free WiFi in central Berlin have foundered, including one audacious plan to outfit all traffic lights with antennae.

SEE ALSO: EU's digital boss CAN use an iPhone

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Tom Barfield (tom.barfield@thelocal.com)

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