Finland Makes Internet a ‘Basic Right’

BY Larisa Epatko  July 5, 2010 at 2:06 PM EST

When one thinks of basic rights, things like voting, clean water or education might come to mind. Now, add Internet access to that list. Finland this month became the first country in the world to make high-speed Internet service a basic right of its citizens.

As of July 1, all service providers in the Nordic country were legally required to provide one Megabit per second (Mbit/s) connection to all households, regardless of location. And by 2015, all Finns must have access to a 100 Mbit/s connection, the new law says.

The one Mbit/s rate allows for a basic high-speed Internet connection, and the higher rate allows streaming video without a buffering delay — that spinning circle on your computer screen when you’re trying to watch a video.

Most of Finland’s population of 5.2 million, according to the CIA World Factbook, is connected to the Internet. Only about 4,000 homes are not connected, the BBC reported.

“We considered the role of the Internet in Finns everyday life. Internet services are no longer just for entertainment,” Finland’s communication minister Suvi Linden told the BBC.

By comparison, the UK government has promised a two Mbit/s rate to all homes by 2012, but doesn’t require it by law as Finland does.

In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission released a national broadband plan last spring aimed at bringing 100 million homes 100 Mbit/s connections by 2020.

President Obama’s latest action was to sign a presidential memorandum on June 28, which would nearly double the wireless communications spectrum available for commercial use over the next 10 years.

According to the France-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States ranks 15th in broadband subscribers, just under Finland. The UK ranked 12th. The Netherlands and Denmark came in first. (View more rankings in this OECD spreadsheet.)

“[The ranking] is something that the Obama administration is trying to correct, but their scale and promises for broadband are much longer targets,” said Washington Post technology policy reporter Cecilia Kang. “Their goals are aspirational and are not codified into law like in Finland. The onus in Finland is on the carrier.”

Finland, a much smaller country than the United States, doesn’t have the geographical problems that the United States has, for example, which makes it more difficult and expensive to bring high-speed Internet connection to rural areas, said Kang.

Finland also is a tech-savvy nation, she continued. “In Finland, there’s this global meme that broadband is this underlying, important infrastructure for the economy. So a business can’t run its business without broadband connections anymore. Or kids at home can’t do their homework without being able to research online, and they need a broadband connection for that. Hospitals need to be able to transfer records electronically, and that means that they need broadband connections.

“This is very ambitious, quite a statement for Finland to be the first country in the world to do this,” Kang said.