Ministry: Free Wi-fi all over for Israelis, tourists

Internet connections are moving outdoors, as Gilad Erdan removes limits on where routers can be set up

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai surfs the Internet under a roof of 600 colorful umbrellas decorating Rothschild Boulevard, announcing the new 'Wi-Fi cloud' in the city in 2013. (photo credit: Kfir Sivan)
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai surfs the Internet under a roof of 600 colorful umbrellas decorating Rothschild Boulevard, announcing the new 'Wi-Fi cloud' in the city in 2013. (photo credit: Kfir Sivan)

Free Internet in Israel just got a big boost. Communications Minister Gilad Erdan has signed an order that removes limitations on the public use of Wi-fi hotspots. From now on, anyone anywhere in Israel will be allowed to set up a hotspot — providing free Internet outdoors as well as indoors.

Last week’s move will be a boon for tourists, who generally have to pay high fees to foreign Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to connect to the web locally. It will also benefit Israelis, who will be able to connect to the Internet in many more areas — for free.

Although some cities like Tel Aviv and Ariel have been providing free Wi-fi for residents and visitors, the routers providing those connections had to be set up inside buildings, in line with ministry requirements that Wi-fi routers had to be placed indoors — which meant that the signal tended to be weak in many public spaces. Under the rule change, municipalities can now set up routers anywhere they want, including in parks, at beaches, and on college campuses.

Last year, Tel Aviv announced a free Wi-fi for all program, setting up a network of routers in tourist and entertainment areas. However, the system didn’t work well for many residents and visitors, who complained on Web forums of weak signals and spotty coverage. In addition, the system didn’t work in hotels, where guests and visitors who wanted to connect to the Internet had to either use their own hotspot — in the form of a cellphone with a 3G connection tethered to their laptop, or with a portable pocket modem, also operating on a 3G network. Those connections aren’t as fast or robust as Wi-fi — and they cost money, too.

In a note, the ministry explained that “in light of new technologies that have appeared over the past few years, the ministry has decided to remove limitations on use of Wi-fi, which until now had been limited to indoor venues. It will now be possible to offer Internet services anywhere in Israel.” In the note, Erdan said that the new rules “will enable Israelis to remain connected and up to date, surfing the Internet for free.”

Under the new rules, municipalities and private companies will be permitted to set up routers, but they will not be able to charge users for the service. Companies can provide a Wi-fi network for individuals already subscribed to their service — as Israeli phone company Bezeq already does. The Bezeq Free network allows Internet infrastructure subscribers to connect to the web using any other Bezeq customer’s Wi-fi router, though the customer has to provide permission and dedicate a portion of bandwidth to the system.

In addition, Bezeq set up routers inside gas stations, supermarkets, malls, and other public buildings — but just as in Tel Aviv, the results for users were just so-so. Under the new rules, Bezeq, or anyone else, will be allowed to set up routers anywhere, providing a much more robust network that it can use to attract customers who have been stolen away by other service providers, like cable company HOT.


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