EU-funded efforts are underway to connect rural areas with the internet and develop wireless access network through hotspots across Cyprus.
The aim is to provide internet access to the third of the population which is currently not hooked up.
Nicos Argyris, a top official at Cyprus' Digital Champion, said an EU Regulation was being promoted to create broadband service networks across Europe.
It was expected Cyprus would be obliged to develop internet access and WiFi hotspots mainly in rural areas, and possibly urban areas.
"We can be pioneers, a model that could be used by the rest of Europe," he said.
One aspect would involve installing WiFi in rural areas, mainly at central points in communities, in order to help the residents use the internet. About 30% of the population of Cyprus that does not use the internet was in rural areas.
"We will help them understand the necessity of the internet," he said, adding that Digital Ambassadors would be trained for this purpose.
Wi-Fi hotspots would be set up in various places. The aim is not to replace existing providers but to offer an alternative access to the internet, especially for those who cannot purchase a package themselves.
This would help improve financial activity in rural areas and give residents access to government departments online from the comfort of their homes. It would also serve as an incentive for overseas Cypriots to return to their roots for the summer holidays.
Argyris also noted the importance of WiFi for agrotourism, as uploading data by tourists would constitute immediate and cost-free advertising for Cyprus.
The second stage of Cyprus' WiFi coverage, recently submitted to the House of Representatives, concerned wireless access points at selected places, such as often frequented archaeological sites, monuments, and monasteries.
He explained that there would be certain restrictions, such as blocking the downloading of files that use a large bandwidth, or data with indecent content or related to terrorism.
Data will be collected to measure the success of the project and plan the next steps.
So far only 122 communities have expressed an interest, while 148 others have still to decide.
However, "in our contact with the communities and taking into consideration the fact that the whole project will be funded by the EU, I believe that soon the remaining 230 communities will respond and request the installation of this kind of service."
He said that, taking into consideration the positive feedback, "we have provided for the funding of the whole project" and that provisions have been made for two hotspots in communities that have not stated their interest yet, "so that we can cover them all."
Connecting rural areas would probably not take more than three months.
The system could be upgraded to run on higher speeds, noting that if an existing line provided 4 mbps at a running cost of €35, it could be upgraded to 8 or 12 mbps at a running cost of €50.
Referring to the equipment needed, Argyris explained that WiFi could not cover vast areas, but used short-range devices, to cover specific spots.
Funding and access
Installation across Cyprus, the infrastructure of which would cost about €500,000, would be funded by the EU under EU regulations of December 2013.
These relate to the support for rural development by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD).
The article on basic services and village renewal in rural areas provides for broadband infrastructure, including its creation, improvement and expansion, passive broadband infrastructure and provision of access to broadband and public e-government solutions.
Regarding the operation and maintenance of the system, Argyris said Digital Ambassadors would be trained to deal with any glitches and help people in communities learn how to use the internet.
The system would complement existing internet connections and could even increase demand.
“Our aim is not to replace existing connections. The system has been designed in such a way so as to complement the provision of services from existing networks,” he said.
Restrictions mean that a user would not be able to have access to the breadth of services offered by an independent provider, such as live football matches or certain downloads.
In this way, he said, persons who become computer literate and use the internet may opt to buy a package of services from providers, who have not increased their sales in rural areas for two years.
The main aim for the project is to improve Cyprus’ performance on internet use, benefiting ordinary citizens and businesses.