The media is free everywhere

PEOPLE
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MEDIA

Cosmopolitan, diverse, modern. Berlin is marketing itself as an attractive travel destination for everyone around the world. For many tourists - keyword “Generation easyjet” - free public Internet is a matter of course. After all, selfies from the Brandenburg Gate or Facebook likes from the TV tower want to be posted directly and without delay.

3,400 free WiFi spots

"The fact that Berlin has not remained inactive in recent years can be seen from the fact that the five Berlin WLAN providers in our working group are now providing around 3,400 freely accessible WLAN spots throughout the city," says Björn Böhning, former head of the Berlin Senate Chancellery. Whether the TV tower, Friedrichstadtpalast or Spandau Citadel: at most of the capital's sights, surfing is free and, as the city points out, safe and reliable surfing is possible - without disclosing sensitive personal data. Free Wifi Berlin is now also available in town halls, town hall offices, museums, schools and libraries; the hotspots are signposted.

Berlin also supports the Freifunk initiative, which was launched by the citizens of Berlin and also provides free, public WiFi for everyone. The basic idea of ​​free radio is based on the fact that several neighbors connect their WLAN routers and thus create a local network with a connection to the Internet, which can be used by many other users as a basic service. A simple idea that relies on solidarity and has not been unsuccessful in recent years.

Church, transport companies and business are pulling along

The circle has now grown even larger. In addition to the Senate and Freifunk, the city's WLAN partners also include such diverse partners as the Berlin-Brandenburg Media Authority mabb, the Evangelical Church, the BVG transport company and various companies. “I am happy about the cooperation and the positive synergy effects for the users. How important the WLAN offer is for Berliners and guests of the city can be seen in the response to the Senate project “Free Wifi Berlin” with up to 3.7 million accesses per month. Overall, Berlin is getting closer and closer to its goal of illuminating the central locations of the city with WLAN, ”said Böhning, who is now State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs.

Anyone who connects to the WLAN Fee Wifi Berlin via mobile phone, iPad or laptop can surf for an unlimited time. In the beginning, however, he has to watch a commercial for a sporting goods company. Or a spot from the Berlin audio book publisher Audible. And Berlin is proving to be quite creative: Audible produced the interview series “Typisch Berlin” especially for the Berlin network. Depending on the respective dial-in location, celebrities tell little stories about the respective neighborhood. Nice advertisement.

In the Germany ranking, Berlin moved to the top. For comparison: In Munich there are 25 urban hotspots, in Hamburg there is communal WiFi for a few streets. With over 3,400 hotspots, the German capital no longer has to fear comparison with other European metropolises.

On the way to the "digital capital"

What sounds like paradisiacal conditions wasn't always like that. The decisive aspect for the long in coming was due to the liability for interference, for the abolition of which the State of Berlin in particular is said to have been particularly committed. According to Böhning, another reason for the hesitation nationwide is that Germans are more cautious when it comes to data security compared to other nations.

And there are still gaps, even in the model city of Berlin. For example, if you are at such central points as the S-Bahn platform at Alexanderplatz, you often get nothing at all from the free BVG WiFi. So be it, Berlin still has a lot to do.

Berlin wants to become the leading digital capital, and WiFi is part of it everywhere. To this end, Berlin's governing mayor, Michael Müller, presented a “10-point agenda” in 2015. Not least because of this, the Free Wifi Berlin project was launched by the Berlin Senate Chancellery and implemented by the company abl social federation. The Senate Chancellery funded the installation of the access points with a grant of 170,000 euros and a contribution to the installation costs of 66,000 euros.

The city also benefits from a lively and decentralized IT and tech scene. "In Berlin we don't have one service provider for all hotspots, but rather a wide variety of commercial and non-commercial projects and initiatives that have intensified their WiFi activities in Berlin over the past few years," says Anja Zimmer, director of mabb.

In addition, the Senate Chancellery is preparing for Berlin's participation in the EU project to promote Internet connectivity in municipalities (WIfI4EU). The EU Commission is making 120 million euros available to promote free WiFi in public places and in public facilities. The Senate Chancellery has advocated that Berlin can submit twelve applications per appeal instead of one - as originally planned by the EU Commission, according to Böhning. This means that every Berlin district is then entitled to participate in the EU WLAN program.

40 new hotspots for the city network in Wedding

The Wedding district has already started doing this without EU funding. With a symbolic start, Senator for Economic Affairs Ramona Pop and Senate Chancellery Björn Böhning recently put 40 more WiFi hotspots into operation in the Wedding district. With these 40 WLAN hotspots, however, there is no advertising, the accesses can be used without advertising, according to the Berlin housing association "Gesobau", which bears all the costs for the operation of the hotspots. The action of the housing association is intended to make it clear that this is not just an action for Berlin tourists. Residents within range of the new WLAN antennas can also use the Internet access free of charge if reception is good.

Connection in all underground stations

Another project is the WLAN equipment of city hospitals. The Senate is providing 2.7 million euros for this purpose. Furthermore, over 250 additional tourist information steles are planned, which will also be equipped with monitors and WiFi. By next year, all underground stations should also be fully equipped with WiFi - including the entire platform and the vestibules.

There are still very practical hurdles until progress can be made in expanding the free hotspots in public space beyond Berlin in the entire Federal Republic. This also includes mundane questions about the assumption of the electricity costs, whether and to what extent electricity sources or internet access are available, sometimes monument protection and facility management have to be involved in the installation. "With these very practical problems, we in Berlin have learned a lot over the past few years and have done a lot right," summarizes Zimmer. Nationwide one can now learn from it. Ultimately, it is about the actors who have to actively support it. This can be seen above all in rural areas: If the mayor of a municipality does not campaign personally, it could take a very long time for public hotspots to be installed in the community center.