According to this article (2014) wireless networks in Germany were way less than in other European countries.

Compared to many other countries, Germany is little more than a patchwork when it comes to accessible public hotspots, and even its largest cities remain largely uncharted wireless waters.

This is also confirmed by this article:

Compared to other high-tech countries around the world, Germany lags behind when it comes to providing free Internet, with a measly two wi-fi hotspots for every 10,000 people.

This article (2017) argues that this is about to be changed, as the legislation will become more permissive.

Operators of publicly accessible wireless networks in Germany will no longer be liable for the illegal activities of their users, thanks to new legislation passed in the Bundestag on Friday. Before the new legislation passed, operators of wireless internet hotspots faced fines and legal action if people used the network to download copyrighted content. That liability greatly hindered the rollout of Wi-Fi networks as businesses feared liability.

Question: Why did it take so long for Germany to change laws applied to wireless hot spots?

  • 2
    Why not? What would you have expected? There is always someone who is the last, isn't there? Why not Germany?
    – Trilarion
    Aug 22 '17 at 7:40
  • @Trilarion - yes, someone has to be last. However, if I understood correctly the timeline, it took some 3 years between the problem being raised to legislative body and the law being passed.
    – Alexei
    Aug 22 '17 at 7:48
  • 2
    Three years is probably within the usual expected time frame. Probably lobby groups of all kinds did try to influence this legislation.
    – Trilarion
    Aug 22 '17 at 7:52
  • By now it no longer matters as most LTE networks are by far speedier than any public WiFi network. Lawmakers are late as usual. Aug 24 '17 at 10:13
  • @JonathanReez: That doesn't help much, as those LTE networks are typically unreachable from within plenty of buildings and tunnels (or even just out in the open, when you're just standing between the wrong set of buildings or hills), and - depending on one's mobile plan - capped by rather narrow data quotas before access gets throttled. At least, that is my experience here - mobile data transfer is still pretty much a thing of the future in Germany. Sep 8 '17 at 4:14

Why did it take so long for Germany to change laws applied to wireless hot spots?

Because lawmaking in general takes a long time everywhere not only in Germany.

Please note that previous legislation did not formally prohibit the offering of free wireless hot spots. It just regulated the liability in case of an unlawful action which in effect discouraged people offering them.

At the time it was deemed the right course. It took some time to re-evaluate and then additionally to write a proposal for a new law and then to pass a vote on it.

I see nothing unusual about it.

  • 1
    Thanks for the quick answer. I agree that the changing some laws is a long process. However, a very developed country failing to provide a good amount of free wireless networks (at least in major/touristic cities) is quite unusual nowadays.
    – Alexei
    Aug 22 '17 at 7:42
  • 1
    @Alexei That's true. The problem was the liability in cases of copyright infringements etc.. The previous legislation made the wi-fi providers partly liable. They were seen as helpers in a crime. Tourists were probably not happy about it but it may have prevented some "crimes" to be committed. There are pros and cons for everything.
    – Trilarion
    Aug 22 '17 at 7:46
  • 2
    Copyright trolls already have a hard stance in the German legal system, because in Germany it is not illegal to download copyrighted material, it's just illegal to distribute it (for example through filesharing systems which upload as you download). I am pretty sure that behind the scenes the copyright lobby fought tooth and nails to retain the Störerhaftung. But that's hard to proof due to the lack of proper public sources for lobby activity.
    – Philipp
    Aug 22 '17 at 11:26
  • 2
    BTW, it’s not quite clear whether the new legislation actually did resolve the issue. Some lawyers believe providers of free Wi-Fi may still run into legal trouble under the new law. Only time and future court decisions will show.
    – chirlu
    Aug 22 '17 at 18:47
  • 1
    @julodnik It actually was legal until April 2017 when the European Court of Justice decided otherwise (German source). The information in my comment above was outdated by 4 months.
    – Philipp
    Jul 8 '19 at 14:34

The problem was not only the process of law-making itself. The new law would certainly have been written in a few weeks and become effective if everyone had agreed in the first place that it was be the best, but this wasn't the case at all.

The situation was and still is very complex. In Germany it had been a long practise to assume the owner of an Internet access point was liable for anything that happened there. This may or may not be surprising seen from the legal system where you're from, but you have to admit there are also strong arguments in favor of the former German approach. If kids download copyrighted material from the house Internet, they're not legally liable because of their age, so why should you conclude that parents don't have anything to do with it either? Obviously the education of their kids should be their responsibility, and they shouldn't just be able to shrug their shoulders if their kids do anything illegal. They may be not liable penally, but at least they may be liable financially. It's a similar thing to that the driver of a car is fined if anyone in his car isn't buckled up as opposed to just the person not being buckled up. The driver is in charge, he underwent drivers training, he signed the contracts, so he's liable.

Everybody agreed that this was a tough situation with respect to Internet access points because it wasn't even prohibited to have or offer or use one, just if you offered it to anyone, you were liable for anything that anybody did, whether it be your private friends or anonymous customers in your café.

Even though, in the decision making process to actually change the legal situation the difficult point was that nobody could really offer an even nearly equal alternative to copyright owners. It is a fact that there are thousands of copyright infringements on the Internet every day. It's also a fact that the state must prosecute them, it's also a fact that copyright owners have a right for financial compensation. Likewise it's a fact that the idea of copyright was never at the disposal. Now the problem is if you want to prosecute these infringements in a practical and effective way, you often need the liability of the owner of the Internet access point. If he's not liable, in many cases it's a hundred times more difficult to find the person who did anything illegal and prove it that they did. This is due to technical limitations of the architecture of the internet, legal limitations when it comes to logging private data, a general hesitation in the German mentality to accept investigative tools that tap computers, and a couple of other factors.

Thus the difficult point was to weigh the interests of copyright owners, who occasionally spend hundreds of millions (as in the case of Hollywood movies) to create their works, and who have a right for setting the price of the products of these investments as well as a legal right that that right is enforced by the state. The legal situation is formally in their favor too, and that is with good reasons, but if practically even the most serious infringements are near impossible to be prosecuted, this is an unbalance in the legal situation that needed long discussion in all involved boards before it could be accepted by a majority.

Think about it, if everybody could make free use of your hard work without paying anything, and profit from any expensive financial and other investments you made in the past, it would be very discouraging for you to do extraordinary things in the present or in the future or make similar investments again. You would not bring in your full potential anymore, and if a legal situation encourages a development where this might happen to many people on an everyday basis, especially as more and more work nowadays has immaterial results that can be copied easily, it's definitely an issue a legislator has to be concerned about. Free WiFi is more of a comfort feature (economic impact is also there but probably a lot lower than some would argue, given there are also mobile networks) whereas discouraging people from making great and bold business ideas and putting them into action can become a strong inhibiting economic factor at some point. This is what they were concerned about.

  • This answer could benefit from links and citations Aug 22 '17 at 23:16
  • I can't find a lot of English sources here, but at least this:
    – tln
    Aug 23 '17 at 0:24
  • germanitlaw.com/…
    – tln
    Aug 23 '17 at 0:25
  • 1
    Very nice answer of the question in a wider sense, i.e. why Germany sees free wi-fi hotspots as somewhat problematic.
    – Trilarion
    Aug 23 '17 at 7:22

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