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Science

Finland's new right to broadband may come slower to rest of EU

Other member states have paid lip service to the idea of giving their citizenry universal access to the internet, but none seem to be willing to implement it into law anytime soon. Will Finland's move change that?

People surf the internet in an internet cafe in Frankfurt, central Germany

Broadband in every home could put internet cafes out of business

Last week, Finland's new law of making relatively low-cost Internet access a basic right went into effect.

That means all of Finland - even though the overwhelming majority of Finns are online already - will have a minimum of one megabit per second available at a "reasonable cost" of 30 to 40 euros ($37 to $50) per month. This speed requirement is expected to go up to 100 megabits per second by 2015.

However, many other European Union countries are hoping to follow suit. Sweden, along with the United Kingdom, France and Spain are among several that have pledged in general to get their populations online, but have done little to make it happen.

European politicans call for more access

Christian Engstrom, a Swedish member of the European Parliament hopes his home country moves quickly to catch up to its Scandinavian neighbor.

"It's an admission that the internet is an important part of society, it's not just a toy for the kids," he told Deutsche Welle. "It's a fundamental part of infrastructure. And I think that signal is a very important one."

Engstrom himself is a computer programmer and member of Sweden's Pirate Party, a young, tech-savvy group that won its two seats in June 2009.

But it's more than just digerati politicians who are calling for more broadband access.

Belgium, Germany are farthest behind

In March 2010, Analysys Mason, a British consulting firm, released a study on the state of competition in the European telecoms sector. The European Competitive Telecoms Authority (ECTA) used that study to suggest that European governments are hurting themselves by not embracing the digital world more wholeheartedly and rapidly. The study showed that improving broadband access throughout the European Union would provide 1.1 million new jobs and a GDP increase of 850 billion euros by 2015.

However, according to Ilsa Godlovitch, ECTA's director, one of the big holdups is that governments must end the traditional monopolies of telecom markets. She said Scandinavia once again leads the way in this area, but that the United Kingdom and France have also encouraged more competition in their telecom markets, ending up with more choice and lower prices for consumers. Glaring examples of where this isn't happening are Belgium and Germany.

"It is an important objective for everybody to have broadband access, more important than to protect a national champion like Deutsche Telekom," she said. "We really do hope the German government will look at the success of broadband in the Scandinavian countries, for example, and will pursue a more open approach in the future rather than protecting the interests of the national incumbent."

Internet users skeptical

Jacqueline Santos, a Brussels internet cafe user agrees. She pointed out that if the European Union actually made good on some of these promises to get low-cost internet access for everyone, then she wouldn't be at the internet cafe, spending one euro per hour to get online.

"You can't live without if you want to be well informed," she said.

Author: Teri Schultz
Editor: Cyrus Farivar

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