Cafe owners and other public spaces in Germany have long been leery of allowing general access to Wi-Fi, as under current rules the person providing the connection can be liable for crimes people commit using the network.
That means that if a person brings their laptop to a cafe and downloads a Hollywood movie, the cafe owner could be sued by the studio for piracy.
Very few people have proven willing to take that risk, leaving the country largely bereft of public Wi-Fi networks.
But the controversial liability rule, which opponents say has stood in the way of public Wi-Fi becoming more widespread in Germany, is set to disappear in a future telecoms law reform, Spiegel Online reported on Wednesday.
“This is an overdue and important step,” Justice Minister Heiko Maas tweeted on Wednesday morning, saying that “the way for more free Wi-Fi is finally open”.
— Heiko Maas (@HeikoMaas) May 11, 2016
MPs could debate the bill in parliament as soon as next week, allowing the law to come into force by Autumn 2016.
“Abolishing liability for Wi-Fi providers is long overdue,” Volker Tripp of campaigning organization Digitale Gesellschaft told The Local.
“Opening up the networks seemed within our grasp again and again over the past year and a half, but always failed because of party-political sensitivities,” he went on.
The decision is in fact an end to months of debate that have set the two large parties in Germany's governing coalition against one another.
Members of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) have generally pushed for an end to the rule, meeting resistance from Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
But recent signs of impatience from Merkel have apparently made for a breakthrough.
According to Spiegel, even a requirement calling for Wi-Fi providers to take “reasonable measures” such as password protection to prevent unknown people using their networks has been removed in the latest version of the new law.
“There have been draft laws available on liability for years,” Green digital policy spokesman Konstantin von Notz tweeted on Wednesday, adding that the government had been “hobbling digital progress” by its failure to act.