The German government is taking steps to encourage Germans to share their WiFi connections, so that the country can finally catch up to rivals in the race towards universal digitalization.
The Economy Ministry has created a draft law which would exempt WiFi providers from liability if someone uses their internet connection to illegally download material, according to a report published in Spiegel on Monday.
Under current the law, anyone who offers free, unprotected WiFi is liable to prosecution if someone uses it to commit a crime, even if the provider has no idea that the crime is taking place.
That means that if a person brings their laptop to a cafe and downloads a Hollywood movie, the cafe owner can been sued by the studio for copyright infringement.
This scenario has put many small businesses – such as cafes and hotels, as well as private individuals – off providing free WiFi. Government research shows that 59 percent of Germans do not offer a hotspot to internet users due to fear of being held liable for other people’s actions.
The result is that Germany lags way behind other developed countries when it comes to public internet access. There are 1.87 WiFi hotspots in the Bundesrepublik per 10,000 residents, compared to 37.35 per 10,000 in South Korea and 28.67 per 10,000 in the UK.
At the same time, Germans own on average three electronic devices which use WiFi, well above the global average of 1.2 devices per person.