Finland makes broadband a legal right

By Peter Nowak, CBCNews.ca.

There's a debate going on in Canada right now over how we can get more people to sign up for broadband access. A recent industry-funded report found that 30 per cent of Canadian households still haven't signed up for it, whether it's because they can't afford it or they're simply not technically literate enough.

One possible way to spur more uptake is to make broadband a legal right, which is what Finland is reportedly doing. The Finns, who gave us vikings, Teemu Selanne and Nokia, have decided that starting next July, every person will have the legal right to a broadband connection of at least one megabit per second. What's more notable is that this is only a stepping stone toward the ultimate goal, which is the right for all to a 100-megabit connection by the end of 2015. That requirement states that no customer can be more than two kilometres from a fibre or cable network.

The Finnish government is obviously putting a very high value on high-speed internet access, given that the country already rates very well in the OECD's broadband rankings. Not only does Finland have the eighth highest number of subscribers per 100 inhabitants, slightly ahead of Canada, it has some of the most affordable services available, ranking in the top five in entry-level, medium-speed and high-speed connections. (Canada, in comparison, rated in the bottom third in all three measures.) Finland, however, rated behind Canada in a recent Cisco-funded study of broadband quality by Oxford University. Needless to say, if all Finns are guaranteed access to 100-megabit service in the next five years — and it is offered at a reasonable price — Finland will be leap-frogging many countries in broadband leadership.

A number of other countries are reportedly mulling the idea of making broadband access a legal right, including the U.K. There, another interesting suggestion has been put forward — that real-estate listings include the highest achievable broadband speed for a domicile. It's an idea that has appeal to many tech-literate home buyers, whose numbers are certainly increasing every year. Such a move might spur owners and service providers to make sure homes are sufficiently wired.

The idea is also reminiscent of a study put out last year by Tim Wu, who coined the phrase "net neutrality," and a Google executive on the possibility of including broadband fibre connections as part of a home owner's property. The "homes with tails" report suggested that having a broadband fibre connection raised the value of a property, and ensured net neutrality by giving home owners a greater selection of service providers by moving them closer to central connection hubs.

These are all great ideas that are worth exploring in Canada. Too bad we're lost in space when it comes to thinking up a digital strategy.