Future

Free WiFi For All? Cities (And Nations) Making Universal Digital Access A Right

Whether it's to bridge the socioeconomic digital divide or to attract tourists, foreign businesses and digital nomads, the time may be ripe to offer free internet access across society. Here are some of those leading the push.

a photo of a man on his laptop overlooking a city

Online editing with a view

Alidad Vassigh and Irene Caselli

For years, certain big cities have been wooing tourists and remote workers by offering free WiFi hotspots to help find the best restaurants or connect for meetings from a park bench. This month, Mexico City won the Guinness World Record for most free WiFi hotspots in the world, with 21,500.


But city legislators from Mexico's ruling party want to take the next big step, making Internet access a legal right for everyone in the city, the El Heraldo de México daily reported. Temístocles Villanueva, a member of the city parliament from the Morena party, led by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, proposed a motion to have universal digital access written into Mexico City's charter.

Mexico City total ambitions

While approximately nine out of ten people in Europe and the United States are able to connect to the Internet, less than half of Mexico's population has access to it, with the digital divide worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Villanueva told El Heraldo that his initiative "leads us to harmonize a great many laws so Internet connection becomes a right" regardless of your ability, or willingness, to pay for a connection. This, he said, would also force companies to "improve" the quality and speed of their home services, if WiFi were free outside.

This is just the latest municipal effort that began when Tel Aviv became the first major city in the world to launch a scheme that offered free WiFi back in 2013. Ron Huldai, who's been the city's mayor since 1998, said at the time that the project turned Tel Aviv into "the startup city of the start-up nation."

Yet, criticism came in quickly, with daily Haaretz soon publishing a story about spotty access, missing access points and slow downloads. Further criticism came surrounding the safety of the system after a hacker took over the network in 2016 to show that he could.

photo of a sign for free WiFi on a wall

Free WiFi everywhere

Paul Hanaoka via Unsplash

Attracting digital nomads

But despite the complaints, free WiFi is becoming increasingly common in major cities. Moscow has a wide network of free hotspots (it came in second in the Guinness World Record), as do Seoul, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Barcelona. Last year, the city council of Sydney decided to go ahead with the decision to implement free WiFi too, which already works in Perth, with a limit of 2G of downloads per day.

Several other destinations implemented free internet access for foreigners who work remotely. For example, the Portuguese island of Madeira is trying to position itself as a hotspot for digital nomads and has created a Digital Nomad Village with free WiFi and free office space. The island of Bali in Indonesia has also recently set up free WiFi in 55 villages to allow digital nomads to set up shop there.

the Uber or Airbnb of citizenship,

There are also entire countries that are combining nationwide free WiFi with e-visas or loose immigration policies to attract digital nomads. Estonia, for example, has had free WiFi for many years now, including in the capital city Tallinn, and it has recently launched a digital nomad visa to attract foreign workers who want to establish themselves in the country.

If we consider free WiFi a perk for tourists and digital nomads, some techies are trying to turn the entire concept upside down: authors like Lauren Razavi are advocating for the creation of what they call "an internet country." The idea is to create a software platform for digital nomads, "the Uber or Airbnb of citizenship," but would still need on-the-ground services like hospitals, schools, public transport and … WiFi hotspots. So even in a digital nomad's futuristic dream, free hotspots are the first step to take.

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Pro-life and Pro-abortion Rights Protests in Washington

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Håfa adai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where new Omicron findings arrive from South Africa, abortion rights are at risk at the U.S. Supreme Court and Tyrannosaurus rex has got some new competition. From Germany, we share the story of a landmark pharmacy turned sex toy museum.

[*Chamorro - Guam]

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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• COVID update: South Africa reports a higher rate of reinfections from the Omicron variant than has been registered with the Beta and Delta variants, though researchers await further findings on the effects of the new strain. Meanwhile, the UK approves the use of a monoclonal therapy, known as sotrovimab, to treat those at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.The approval comes as the British pharmaceutical company, GSK, separately announced the treatment has shown to “retain activity” against the Omicron variant. Down under, New Zealand’s reopening, slated for tomorrow is being criticized as posing risks to its under-vaccinated indigenous Maori.

• Supreme Court poised to gut abortion rights: The U.S. Supreme Court signaled a willingness to accept a Republican-backed Mississippi law that would bar abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest. A ruling, expected in June, may see millions of women lose abortion access, 50 years after it was recognized as a constitutional right in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

• Macri charged in Argentine spying case: Argentina’s former president Mauricio Macri has been charged with ordering the secret services to spy on the family members of 44 sailors who died in a navy submarine sinking in 2017. The charge carries a sentence of three to ten years in prison. Macri, now an opposition leader, says the charges are politically motivated.

• WTA suspends China tournaments over Peng Shuai: The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China due to concerns about the well-being of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, and the safety of other players. Peng disappeared from public view after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.

• Michigan school shooting suspect to be charged as an adult: The 15-year-old student accused of killing four of his classmates and wounding seven other people in a Michigan High School will face charges of terrorism and first-degree murder. Authorities say the suspect had described wanting to attack the school in cellphone videos and a journal.

• Turkey replaces finance minister amid economic turmoil: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan appointed a strong supporter of his low-interest rate drive, Nureddin Nebati, as Turkey’s new finance minister.

• A battle axe for a tail: Chilean researchers announced the discovery of a newly identified dinosaur species with a completely unique feature from any other creatures that lived at that time: a flat, weaponized tail resembling a battle axe.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

South Korean daily Joong-ang Ilbo reports on the discovery of five Omicron cases in South Korea. The Asian nation has broken its daily record for overall coronavirus infections for a second day in a row with more than 5,200 new cases. The variant cases were linked to arrivals from Nigeria and prompted the government to tighten border controls.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

¥10,000

In the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, a reward of 10,000 yuan ($1,570) will be given to anyone who volunteers to take a COVID-19 test and get a positive result, local authorities announced on Thursday on the social network app WeChat.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Why an iconic pharmacy is turning into a sex toy museum

The "New Pharmacy" was famous throughout the St. Pauli district of Hamburg for its history and its long-serving owner. Now the owner’s daughter is transforming it into a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys, linking it with the past "curing" purpose of the shop, reports Eva Eusterhus in German daily Die Welt.

💊 The story begins in autumn 2018, when 83-year-old Regis Genger stood at the counter of her pharmacy and realized that the time had come for her to retire. At least that is the first thing her daughter Anna Genger tells us when we meet, describing the turning point that has also shaped her life and that of her business partner Bianca Müllner. The two women want to create something new here, something that reflects the pharmacy's history and Hamburg's eclectic St. Pauli quarter (it houses both a red light district and the iconic Reeperbahn entertainment area) as well as their own interests.

🚨 Over the last few months, the pharmacy has been transformed into L'Apotheque, a venture that brings together art and business in St. Pauli's red light district. The back rooms will be used for art exhibitions, while the old pharmacy space will house a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys. Genger and Müllner want to show that desire has always existed and that people have always found inventive ways of maximizing pleasure, even in times when self-gratification was seen as unnatural and immoral, as a cause of deformities.

🏩 Genger and Müllner want the museum to show how the history of desire has changed over time. The art exhibitions, which will also center on the themes of physicality and sexuality, are intended to complement the exhibits. They are planning to put on window displays to give passers-by a taste of what is to come, for example, British artist Bronwen Parker-Rhodes's film Lovers, which offers a portrait of sex workers during lockdown.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them. Never."

— U.S. actor Alec Baldwin spoke to ABC News, his first interview since the accident that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust last October. The actor said that although he was holding the gun he didn’t pull the trigger, adding that the bullet “wasn't even supposed to be on the property.”

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

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