Germany's Wi-Fi Shortage Set to Ease as Merkel Backs New Bill

  • Wi-Fi providers won't be liable for what their users do online
  • Cabinet also backs tax benefits for startup investors
Merkel’s cabinet of ministers backed a bill to remove legal quirks that hold providers of Wi-Fi hotspots liable users actions.
Merkel’s cabinet of ministers backed a bill to remove legal quirks that hold providers of Wi-Fi hotspots liable users actions.
Photographer: Michele Tantussi/Bloomberg

Germany is set to remove legal quirks that hold providers of Wi-Fi hotspots liable for what users that have connected do online, a move Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government hopes will increase free Internet offerings across the country.

Merkel’s cabinet on Wednesday backed a bill that would remove the liability established by Germany’s top civil court in 2010, the government said in a statement. Under the bill, providers won’t be held liable as long as they secure the network properly and get users to agree not to act illegally. The government also backed plans to spur venture-capital funding for startups through tax breaks.

Travelers used to checking e-mail for free when hopping around the world are often hit by an unpleasant surprise when searching for Wi-Fi in Germany. Fearing lawsuits, many restaurants, cafes and hotels restrict access to their hotspots or don’t offer them, meaning visitors struggle to connect or end up paying expensive roaming fees.

“Now cities, cafes, hotels and privates can open up their Wi-Fi in a legally secure way,” Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel said in a statement. The measures tie into Germany’s “digital agenda” aimed at blanketing the country with high-speed Internet by 2018, backing the digitalization of industry and defending Europe’s biggest economy against attacks by cybercriminals.

Promoting Startups

To help young companies, the government said it will double the ceiling for investments that are eligible for tax breaks under a program promoting startups to 500,000 euros ($562,000) a year. The program grants investors a 20 percent reimbursement on investments of at least 10,000 euros in startups and a refund of tax paid on capital gains from such investments.

In its review of the tax treatment of capital gains on free-float shares held by corporations that invest in startups, the government said it will ensure that there won’t be new financial burdens for innovative companies.

Merkel has repeatedly pledged to boost venture-capital incentives in Germany, saying it is part of her government’s goal to maintain Europe’s “digital sovereignty” by building up companies that can compete with the likes of Google Inc. and Facebook Inc.

According to the World Bank Doing Business 2015 report, it takes 14.5 days to start a business in Germany, compared with 4.5 days in France and 6 days in the U.K.

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