Finnish Government Declares Broadband A ‘Legal Right’

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For the first time in the world, Finland has made access to the Internet a legal right for every one of its citizens

In a world first, the government of Finland has declared that access to the Internet is a fundamental right for every citizen.

By bringing in the legislation on 1 July, Finland has become the first country in the world to declare that every Finn must have the right to access a 1Mbps (megabit per second) broadband connection. And it has vowed to connect everyone to a 100Mbps connection by 2015.

“From now on a reasonably priced broadband connection will be everyone’s basic right in Finland. This is absolutely one of the government’s most significant achievements in regional policy and I am proud of it, said Ms Suvi Lindén, Finland’s Minister of Communications.

“I hope that people will make use of the opportunity and turn to telecom operators in the area they live,” said Minister Lindén.

Unlike The UK

The move is in stark contrast to the UK, where the previous Labour government promised a minimum connection of at least 2Mbps to all homes by 2012. It has also not made this a legal requirement.

Speaking last month, new Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt labelled Labour’s commitment to universal 2Mbps broadband as “pitifully unambitious”. Yet despite damning the 2Mbps minimum broadband speed, Hunt said that the government will use a proportion of the underspend on digital switchover to fund this, and the Conservative Party remains convinced that the market should drive the fibre investment.

However, this political rhetoric does nothing to address the vexed question of providing decent broadband connections to those in rural communities.

Hunt also threatened to bring in legislation to force other infrastructure providers, such as electricity and water companies, to open up their ducts as well.

Like the UK, Finland has placed the onus on the telecom companies to roll out fibre, but backed it with legislation. Essentially the deal means that from 1 July all 26 telecommunications companies in Finland will be obliged to provide all residents with broadband lines that can run at a minimum 1Mbps speed.

Illegal Filesharing

Suvi Linden, the country’s communications minister, said the Internet was part of everyday life for Finnish people and that high speed Internet access was a priority for the government.

“Internet services are no longer just for entertainment,” she told the BBC. “Finland has worked hard to develop an information society and a couple of years ago we realised not everyone had access.”

It is estimated that up to 96 percent of the Finnish population is already online and only about 4,000 homes will need to be connected to comply with the law. This compares to the UK, where Internet penetration stands at 73 percent.

However, by declaring that every citizen has a legal right, it does raise the question of what Finland will do regarding cutting off people suspected of illegal file-sharing. The Finns have instead resolved not to cut off or restrict access for downloaders, but instead will send letter to anyone breaking piracy laws.

“We will have a policy where operators will send letters to illegal file-sharers but we are not planning on cutting off access,” said Linden.

Others headed in same direction

Recent reports have suggested that other European countries are moving in the same direction as Finland, with plans to make Internet a fundamental right currently in the works. In June 2009, the French Constitutional Council declared access to the Internet to be a basic human right, directly opposing the key points of one of President Sarkozy’s laws.

Meanwhile in Spain, the minister of industry Miguel Sebastian announced last year that Spanish citizens would have the legal right to broadband at 1Mbps by 2011.

Author: Tom Jowitt
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