This blog post will examine Dobush’s argument for free wi-fi networks for refugees in German shelters.
In a world where the internet seems to be king, there are still spaces where individuals are “internet starved”. The public library I work for has issued over 500 Chromebooks and hundreds of hotspots for city residents that go without. This article jumped out to me because of the title. How many of us have been out in public and searched for that beacon of free wi-fi only to be disappointed? What does that mean for Germany?
There was once a time without Wi-fi. I remember as a child and early teen not being consumed with the internet. In fact, I was a skeptic. Dial-up tones did not aid the internet’s emergence making it impossible to really get work done and keep the phone line free for a parent to talk to their neighbor. Wi-fi seemed too good to be true. Now like a coffee fiend I make my public eating choices based on who has free wi-fi I can use while in their establishment. “Amy Cooper, a 20-year-old SPRT employee who moved to Germany from Britain last June, complains that Berlin's Internet speed is so slow, it feels like the old dial-up days she has heard her parents reminisce about.” (Nicholson, E. 2019)
It is surprising to find that Germany, a country with many advancements are behind with free and open wi-fi networks. “As Bloomberg reported last year, the law means that Germans and travelers hoping to get work done in cafes, public spaces or hotel lobbies often find themselves out of luck.” (Dobush, G. 2016) I frequently travel outside of the country and one of the things I do take for granted is my access to the internet, especially 5G, my phone has an excellent connection in the states most of the time. Once I leave the country and have to conduct business or have an artistic project with a deadline I take into consideration a countries connectivity. “Germany is Europe's largest economy, but business leaders warn it is in danger of losing its edge because of sluggish Internet connections.” (Nicholson, E. 2019)
What we learned this past year is that we can stay connected while locked in our homes, but the truth is that there are still people without access to what many assume is basic comfort. “The issue of Internet access is especially important for refugees in Germany, according to Heise. The country took in 1.1 million refugees in 2015, and expects a total of 3.6 million by 2020. When refugees arrive in German shelters, they often have trouble finding an open connection. Heise reports that Freifunkers have set up more than 340 networks in refugee homes in the past month.” (Dobush, G. 2016)
This is the narrative of students, workers, refugees, the homeless and many more that just don’t have the access to a free network. “Trapped between the financial hardships of the pandemic and the technological hurdles of online learning, the millions of low-income college students across America face mounting obstacles in their quests for higher education.” (Levin, D. 2020) The same is similar for high school students. “Some 4.4 million US households with school-aged children did not have consistent access to a computer as of September 28, and 3.7 million did not have regular internet access, according to an analysis of US Census Bureau figures by USAFacts, a nonpartisan data site.” (Forde, K. 2020)
Having been homeless relying on the public libraries’ internet access I can understand why having free and available networks for people is extremely important. It is fortunate that some library systems can provide hotspots, however, I know there is always a fear of liability with these things. Germany is cautious because they don’t want to be liable. “The blame rests squarely on the shoulders of Störerhaftung, a German law that makes the owner of a wi-fi network responsible for any illegal activities conducted on the connection.” (Dobush, G. 2016)
At the end of the day, laws must change to meet the people. China is leading the industry with hotspots per person, Germany falling shortly behind that, and the USA just behind Germany. In what are supposed to be the top countries they fall short in access. Only time will tell if they will ever catch up.
Dobush, G. (2016). Why is it impossible to find free wi-fi in Germany?. Quartz. https://qz.com/694618/why-is-it-impossible-to-find-free-wi-fi-in-germany/#:~:text=The%20blame%20rests%20squarely%20on,with%20your%20open%20wi%2Dfi.
Forde, K. (2020). No access: Remote learning widens US digital divide for students. Aljazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/10/23/covid-exacerbates-us-digital-divide-for-students-without-inter
Levin, D. (2020). No Home, No Wi-Fi: Pandemic Adds to Strain on Poor College Students. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/12/us/covid-poor-college-students.html
Nicholson, E. (2019). Berlin Is A Tech Hub, So Why Are Germany's Internet Speeds So Slow?. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2019/01/03/678803790/berlin-is-a-tech-hub-so-why-are-germanys-internet-speeds-so-slow