Finland celebrates as Internet access becomes a legal right

1Mbit of reasonably priced broadband, now that’s freedom

HOW TIMES HAVE changed, Finland has just entered a new era in history where reasonably priced broadband access with a minimum downstream speed of 1Mbit/s has become a legal right for its citizens and businesses. This is an issue that’s been discussed by many other European countries, but most of them came up with the view that internet access isn’t a right, it’s a privilege and then went on to implement various regulations based on that.

The Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority – or FICORA for short – considers €30-40 ($37-50) to be a reasonable price for a 1Mbit connection, but most providers seem to charge somewhere between €20-30 a month ($25-37) for the various 1Mbit services on offer. However, consumers have the right to complain to FICORA if they think what they’re being charge is unreasonable. According to the BBC, 96 percent of Finnish homes are already connected to a 1Mbit or faster internet service with only some 4000 homes not having had broadband installed.

Now Finland might not be largest country in the world, but there are still plenty of scarcely populated areas, especially in the north. This has lead to some complaints, as TeliaSonera – the ex government run telco, now in a joint venture with the ex Swedish government run telco – isn’t thrilled about having to provide these last few connections, as they won’t come cheap. The company has taken things to court as TeliaSonera didn’t agree with the new law where it’s forced to provide the service in question, however the case was dismissed by the supreme administrative court.

There are no less than 26 different operators in all, that are part of the new broadband scheme, although TeliaSonera is by far the largest and the only company out of the 26 offering services in the northern most regions of the country. No matter how this plays out, the Finnish government doesn’t have any intention to stop at 1Mbit though, as by 2015 Finland expects that more than 99 percent of the population should not be further than 2km from a 100Mbit fibre or cable connection. We’re not sure what the practical implementation of this is, as being 2km from a 100Mbit connection doesn’t actually mean that you’ll have access to it, just that you’ll live fairly close to a fast internet connection.

With regards to the current regulation, well, it’s actually got a good few loopholes that could allow the service providers to get away with delivering less, as the law stipulates that the average minimum download speed has to be 1Mbit/s. This means for example that during working hours you could end up with a much slower connection when the service provider prioritises business traffic and at off-peak hours the speed for consumer would be boosted to offset the drop in speed. Again, it’s up to the consumers to complain if they’re not happy with the service offered. There’s also no regulation with regards to the upload speed which seems to be a missed opportunity. Then again, TeliaSonera is getting ready to launch a new 1000/100Mbit asymmetrical service this autumn for €99 ($124) a month, although this is likely to limited to larger cities.

Is broadband internet access a legal right? Well, considering how much time most people spend on the internet these days, it might as well be. The problem is how to force the service providers to roll out their services in rural areas with a low population density, as there’s often little incentive for them to do so. Considering how many people are still stuck with a dialup service for their internet connection one has to wonder when we’ll reach a stage when the 56k modem can be abolished for good. It’s likely that various wireless services will finally replace modems, but again there doesn’t seem to be enough of an incentive for many of the wireless service operator to offer their services in rural areas.S|A

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