Dublin city council cancels free citywide WiFi: "Illegal under Euro law"

Olly F writes, "This is sad stuff. A remote, unelected bureaucracy in Brussels dictates that city councils can't provide free wi-fi. By cities, I mean all those in 27 countries. The EU is not on the citizen's side. This is only the latest example."
A plan to provide free wireless broadband throughout Dublin has been abandoned.

Dublin City Council has decided the plan would be contrary to EU law on state aid, as well as not financially possible. The project is estimated to cost €27m.

Link (Thanks, Olly!)


  1. Sad if true, but is it actually correct that EU law prevents this kind of thing? City councils can maintain roads, tramways and all kinds of other infrastructure, so I can’t see how free wi-fi would be different in principle.

    EU law would doubtless have a lot to say about how such a scheme was implemented, and could certainly make a specific plan illegal (because of lack of transparency in the tendering process, say), but it’s a big jump from there to say that any such plan would be illegal.

    Does anyone out there have any specifics on why Dublin City Council thought the plan would have been contrary to EU law?

  2. The difference is, in other parts of the EU people would just ignore these laws, why the hell is britain so picky about it.

  3. There are no competitors when it comes to roads and rails. There’s just no space for another set of tracks. This is not true for Wifi, where there’s more than one spot on the spectrum that competitors can use. Also, there are companies who can and do provide internet service, so competition exists (albeit not wireless).

    That said, I think it’s utterly stupid. I think it’s very important to give people a basic network connection. This can only improve education, as well as consumation. (Order from the comfort of your home, etc.)
    Make it so that people have a basic level of connectivity, enough for email and light browsing.
    If you want more, pay a normal ISP to give you a regular line, complete with youtube, bittorrent, counter-strike, the works.

    Only, that way the ISPs would have to compete on service instead of price, or at least point them more in that direction. This is not what ISPs want.

  4. I hope DJS won’t think me too pedantic (Brits, huh?) if I point out that Dublin isn’t part of Great Britain.

  5. TFA does say that it is the City Council that has decided that it’s counter to EU law, not the EU. Extrapolating from the article, it would appear that the intention was to extend the city’s service out of public buildings like libraries and museums, which is probably technically illegal in that the council can provide free wi-fi on its premises in the same way as any other organisation, but providing it in public creates competition with telecom providers. The obvious workaround would be to create a partnership with Eircom or somesuch and then mount transmitters and repeaters on municipal street furniture. In addition the Republic does have to be rather careful where the EU is concerned as it’s one of the countries that owes a lot of its economic success in recent years to the EU.

  6. Take it with a pinch of salt; speaking as an inhabitant of Dublin, I’m 99% sure the city council is just using “EU law” as an excuse to get out of doing something they don’t want to do for other, unspecified reasons.

  7. Do your really want a government to be in charge of carrying all your communications, whether innocuous or deeply personal?

    Remember what totalitarian governments did to the phone systems they ran? Total surveillance.

    It would make what Bush and Blair and the rest of them are doing now, look like little more than window snooping.

    Yeah, I REALLY want the government to be able to control my internet connection, be able to intercept, record and monitor it at will.

    In private hands this become more difficult, and you can switch service providers when you want to.

    There is a reason China and Burma and other countries hate the internet and block, filter and monitor it constantly, where they permit it at all.

    Do you really trust Bush, Blair or even your local mayor to NOT snoop on your connection?

  8. This is crappy news for Dublin residents such as myself. I, however, fully intend to leave my wifi connection open and I encourage other Dublin residents to do the same. If you’re anywhere near the corner of Foley and James Joyce St in D1 then please feel free to hop on my connection.

  9. I don’t think this is exactly true. My parents live in Gaia, a town next to Porto in Portugal and the council has started a municipal wifi a few months ago. Being Portugal I wouldn’t be surprised if they just ignored the EU law, but seems unlikely considering that in this case following the supposed law would have been cheaper.

  10. I’m used to boingboing commenters not reading the original post very carefully, but it looks to me like even the original contributor hasn’t. The post says “the plan would be contrary to EU law on state aid”, which I take to mean that the original plan relied on an EU subsidy which has some conditions on it which make it difficult to use for this project, not that wi-fi is illegal in the Socialist States of EU.

    And as for not even Cory picking up on the speculation that this is not the real reason, but that it was actually due to pressure from the telcos, well….

    Also, DJS, Republic of Eire =/= Britain

  11. #8: At least governments are under democratic control (supposedly, yeah, I know) – corporations, esp. multinationals, are not.

    Yet another symptom of the “free” market disease: It’s not allowed to give something for common good if there a buck to be made out of it.

  12. I second what Antonio Silva and Justin Mason said: there are dozens of towns in EU countries with free, council-provided wifi. Oulu in Finland has had one for almost 4 years now; I’m currently living in Portugal (across the river from your parents, Antonio) and these are popping up in small towns everywhere.

    “Oh we’d love to provide this service, but unfortunately Brussels won’t let us” is a classic cop-out in any EU country.

  13. Remmelt @ 3:
    I don’t think competition vs monopoly makes sense as a rationale: European city councils do all kinds of things in non-monopoly areas (subsidise music schools and sports facilities, collect refuse, lend books, feed schoolchildren) and I’ve never heard anyone suggest that these actions are illegal.

    Justin Mason @ 7:
    That was my guess, based on how the EU gets used as a scapegoat in the UK. I kind of hoped Ireland might be more enlightened than that, being in the Euro and all, but I guess politicians are much the same everywhere.

  14. um “Republic of Eire”? The name of the place is Ireland.

    Almost all state aid to companies is illegal in the EU but there is likely nothing to stop the council setting up its own wifi corporation if it really wanted to. Except of course economics and lack of demand. Chicago recently scrapped a similar plan too not sure what excuse they used.

  15. @Tom, 8: “Yeah, I REALLY want the government to be able to control my internet connection, be able to intercept, record and monitor it at will.”

    They already do. In some countries, they need a warrant. In others, not so much.

    What makes you think that private corporations will not snoop on your email? At least with the government, the bottom line isn’t profit. With a corp, pretty much anything that makes money will be done. Sell your emails to Mr. Spammer A. Spam? Done. Sift through your browsing history to see what you really need to buy next? Done. Keep this information forever? Done. Get bought up by a bigger fish, pooling more of your data? Done.

    Again, even with everything in private hands, the government STILL gets to see your data. There’s no need to worry about that.

    So yes, I would really like to see basic connectivity from my government. They have libraries as well (and they keep track of what you borrow! Gasp!) and schools (they know what you know!!!) and toll booths (they know where you are!!!!!!), so this would be a logical step.

    Either way, my point is that it would be good to have the wifi, and bad to have a totalitarian, snooping government. These two points can certainly be combined into WIRELESS UTOPIA! WHO’S WITH ME!

  16. Alot of subtleties in this situation have been missed – perhaps because of distance or lack of info.

    EU competition policy forbids the use of public money to subsidize unfair competition.

    What is unfair in this case is that one competitor – the city as ISP – gets state funds while others – the commercial ISPs who also operate in Dublin – don’t get the same support.

    Where there are NO commercial providers of Internet access – e.g. in poor rural areas – the European Commission has ruled that there is no problem giving as much state aid as anyone wants.

    Where only the incumbent telco is offering access, state aid is probably OK, too, especially if used to create competition to the incumbent.

    In other cases, it’s either not allowed or is subject to review and approval by the EC on a case by case basis.

    This is all explained in a 2007 powerpoint presentation by the head of the telecom section of the EU’s competition directorate. Here is the link.

    I haven’t checked the EC website, but I would guess that Irish ISPs filed a complaint with the EC when the Dublin plan was announced, the EC looked at it and agreed that free WiFi would compete unfairly with the ISPs.

    Dublin isn’t the first case where this has happened. Prague was the first, last May. But the biggest controversy about this issue has been in Spain. I wrote about that in my “View from Europe” blog for the Wireless Internet Institute: “Spaniards Ask, Is Wireless Internet a Private Business or Universal Right?”

    More recently, I moderated the mayors and CIOs panel on “Regulation and Funding” at the Wireless Digital Cities European Summit where state aid for municipal Wi-Fi was THE hot topic. Read about that discussion here.

  17. rhorvitz, great reply.

    Something still doesn’t match: you say that the European Commission allows state-funded wifi networks in poor rural areas where there is no corporate competitors. However, there are many examples of state-funded wifi in wealthy urban areas: Oulu, Finland, houses one of the fastest-growing IT sectors in Europe, but (as far as I know) there never was any talk of the free network being unfair competition.

    (Their FAQ states that “PanOULU does not compete with commercial services. It does not offer extensive user support nor same reliability than commercial operators.”) http://www.panoulu.net/faq.shtml.en

    Same here in Portugal: the towns that are now building their free wifi networks are small to mid-sized, none of them particularly poor.

  18. “um “Republic of Eire”? The name of the place is Ireland.”

    Well in English (our language of commerce) it’s the Republic of Ireland. The ‘official’ (read: Irish language) name is Eire, but English-speaking Irish people almost never refer to the country as such.

    Indeed, it seems the only people who actually do say ‘Eire’ on a regular basis are the British, probably as shorthand to distinguish the ROI from Northern Ireland (though that doesn’t make it any less unusual/amusing to me).

    But back to the topic: I would be inclined to agree with others here that the city council is just making excuses. Allegedly, they have a sorry reputation for half-completed projects, so it’s not much of a surprise.

  19. I agree with Justin Mason, they are using the laws as an excuse for doing it.
    I would imagine the free wi-fi would only benefit the city, because people would flock there, buy stuff, use public transport, etc, it would pay for itself.

  20. That RTÉ story mentions Dublin City libraries providing free wifi but
    I want to make a small point about that.
    Yeah, they sort of provide free wifi but it’s censored and censored by morons who most likely just switch on the software and leave it.
    Any url with ‘blog’ in it is blocked. Deviantart.com (for nice photos and poetry ‘n’ stuff) is blocked presumably because of the name and surprise surprise, so is BoingBoing.
    Also SEGoodies.com is too but I’ve no idea why. I kind of like that site :(

  21. No surprise. Whenever the monkeys get together with a new set of sweeping reforming laws designed to address some of the monkeys obsessive concerns over whatever it is that concerns ’em…usually having to do with their sense (sense in contrast to “actual”) of security, material comfort and presitge, it invariably is used to knock us over the head and tie our shoelaces together. I for one think the rule of the jungle should be left alone as it’s done wonderful things so far. Where it lacks the ability to address some problems should be addressed locally.

  22. A) I’m sure the Irish won’t mind it being pointed out that Ireland isn’t part of Britain.

    B) does no one else suspect that the phrase “as well as not financially possible” is as important, if not more so, as the whole “EU law” thing?

    But hey, why let the obvious get in the way of a good rant?

  23. I’ve always been a big proponent of free internet as I personally define it as a basic human right. However, I had a rare and fascinating discussion with a former CIO of New York City a few months ago and he gave me much to mull on this topic.

    He is vehemently against free wifi. He said it’s exceptionally expensive and it’s a service no city is trained to handle right now. He brought up the topic of ever-changing standards and the cost of converting WAPs from 802.11b to 802.11g to 802.11n to who knows what. He also mentioned that NYC did some trial rollouts and because commercial broadband was so prevalent hardly anyone used the slow free service.

    Whatever’s best for the populace, whether it’s free wifi or lower taxes, that’s what I want. Whichever is appropriate for your locality may differ from your neighbour.

  24. @23 The name of the country is Ireland. “Republic of Ireland” is not the name of the country in your “language of commerce” (I had a good laugh at that) or any other language, no matter what FIFA think. Check Bunreacht na hEireann if you like.

  25. #30 – Brian Damage

    Bryant Park in NYC, which interacts frequently with the city government runs free wi-fi sponsored by Google. It’s not great, but it’s there. And it’s free.

    What Dublin needs to do is simply sell the right to offer free wi-fi on reasonable terms to a large company like Google, who can make up for the cost in ad money.

    Also, the CIO is on crack. People use the Bryant Park wireless all the time, and more would be using it if it were faster, and if there were available power ports.

  26. My impression of Dublin, although young and vital, is starting to feel the pinch. The last thing the City needs to do is give a service away when they can just afford to finish all the projects that are currently underway. The EU stuff is an excuse.

  27. I concede my mistake about the name of the nation on the island to the west of the island that I live on, though I’m still not clear exactly which is the generally acceptable name.

  28. Ireland. Irish Republic or Republic of Ireland is ok too if you want to make sure people know you are talking about the country rather than the island.

  29. The key point for me, which seems to be ignored, is the “as well as not financially possible” aspect.

  30. This would never have gone ahead.

    We have an incumbent telcom in this country that throws its weight around regularly and as a result our broadband offerings are in the stone age.

    I still cringe when I recall Bertie Ahern (our glorious leader……) standing in front of an audience of EU leaders during Ireland’s stint with the EU presidency. He claimed that Ireland was the ‘digital hub of Europe’. Unfortunately, broadband access was still at least a year away and we were connecting to the internet over dialup and paying by the minute for the pleasure!

    It is still not possible to get a broadband connection in parts of the centre of Dublin due to patchy infrastructure. Free WiFi is a pipe-dream, we cannot even get WiFi if we pay for it!

  31. The difference is, in other parts of the EU people would just ignore these laws, why the hell is britain so picky about it.

    Err, Dublin is in Republic of Ireland, not Britain (even if Dubliners themselves don’t call it Baile Átha Cliath and their country Éire ;) )

    This is either an excuse for the plan for which founding did not materialized, or the plan was to simply pay enormous sum to a near-monopoly operator, in which case it would indeed be illegal state aid.

  32. “@23 The name of the country is Ireland. “Republic of Ireland” is not the name of the country in your “language of commerce” (I had a good laugh at that) or any other language, no matter what FIFA think. Check Bunreacht na hEireann if you like.”

    Oh I don’t need to, because I’m pretty sure that Bunreacht na hEireann calls it Eire. But I accept your correction of my assertion on the official name – my bad. However I’m not a nationalist, so I have no problem with ‘Republic of Ireland’.

    But is English not our language of commerce? You can laugh all you want, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

  33. So, it wouldn’t be illegal state aid if the state did it themselves with tax money? That’s nice to hear.

    Even so, free market proponents have been known to whine about unfairness even when the issue at hand would not be illegal according to the above definition.

    An example that springs to mind at the moment is when right wing politicians and capitalists in a town here in Sweden whined about the catering-“business” of the town (i.e. a “business” in the same sense as the public hospital or school) being able to provide a “too cheap” service of preparing food, so capitalists could not compete fairly and get rich feeding children and the elderly. (And the towns own caterer was not being unfairly subsidized with taxes, it just didn’t need to make a profit.)

    Funny how capitalists say deregulation and outsourcing will save/make money and be better and cheaper for the people too (which has been shown to be untrue in the cases of deregulation of various things in Sweden), but when an entity that is not out to make a profit is a cheaper alternative (how is that possible!?!), they bitch and whine about unfairness.

  34. but when an entity that is not out to make a profit is a cheaper alternative (how is that possible!?!), they bitch and whine about unfairness.

    …and demand more regulation to promote deregulation.

  35. while Free WiFi is nice for those who cannot afford it, I must admit I was concerned about this when I first heard of the project, as it certainly would hurt competition, which I believe is what the Irish broadband market needs right now, as opposed to the old boy’s club it is right now.

    thought it should be noted that Dublin City Council only covers a small part of what is generally called Dublin!

  36. “thought it should be noted that Dublin City Council only covers a small part of what is generally called Dublin!”

    That may be true in terms of area, but Dublin City Council represents a much greater population density than any of the other administrative areas in the county.

    And as a Dubliner myself, I don’t consider anything north of Swords to be part of Dublin ;o)

  37. A parallel to this happened in my hometown Adelaide, Australia. Back in March 2002, the World Congress in IT was held at the Adelaide Convention Centre. 70 Wifi transmitters were installed for the event. Afterwards, the transmitters were pulled down and the Adelaide City Council was approached to have permission to install the transmitters in public places (ie: on top of light poles) and permission was approved. The angle being, to ‘boost the states IT reputation’, ‘increase city worker mobility’, and to draw in youth to the city area. Now, most the main streets for shopping, wining and dining in Adelaide are WiFi hotspots. Perhaps in Dublin a fresh approach needs to be taken.

    Check the article How to use free WiFi Internet on Rundle Mall for Adelaide’s point of view on this Dublin debacle.

  38. It is funny that other EU cities HAVE available wifi in the main public areas as train stations and museums etc… Dublin City Council despite all its stupid necks is an headless Monster. They remember to be in the EU only when it is some issue going against people’s sake, they remember the EU also when its time to suck EU money to built modern offices to let a comfortable sit to their unnumbered necks and to create failing projects to make few leeches survive one year or two and buy their houses on the contributors face.
    They forget to spend EU money to create a Council Head instead to think with a brain and take responsibility of all the stupid mistakes that are soaking this village… and so forgetting the ship is sinking (also stinking but not singing).
    Stinking Old Town… isn’t it?

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