Finland’s Broadband Law
On July 1st, legislation making 1Mb broadband access a legal right in Finland took effect. As a result, Finland becomes the first nation to consider broadband a right. (Last year France’s Consitutional Council declared Internet access a right, but the reason had more to do with shooting down an anti-piracy proposal by President Sarkozy).
The Finnish law, passed in October 2009, has generated great speculation as to what it means for broadband to be a right. At first glance, the headline could mean some combination of:
- The government guarantees that no one can deny you access to broadband service as long as you’re willing to pay for it
- Those who want broadband and can pay for it must do so; those who want it and can demonstrate inability to pay will have it provided to them
- The government provides the service to everyone and taxes the population through some means (direct tax, fees on services, etc)
However, the Ministry of Transport and Communications states the true meaning of the right to broadband access:
This means that a broadband access will be included in basic communications services like telephone or postal services. As of the beginning of July telecom operators defined as universal service providers must be able to provide every permanent residence and business office with access to a reasonably priced and high-quality connection with a downstream rate of at least 1 Mbit/s.
The key words are “reasonably priced” and “high-quality”. Additionally, it is worth noting that twenty-six telecom operators have been designated as universal service providers by the regulatory authority – plenty to ensure proper pricing. Of course, the vast majority of Finland’s five million citizens already have access to fast Internet connections (the 1Mb minimum required by this law is very slow compared to the typical speed of Finland’s networks). So, in many ways, the Broadband Support Act is a formality that ties up loose ends and paves the way for even faster mandated connection speeds by 2015.
The bottom line is that the government recognizes the importance of citizens’ access to the Internet. Few nations are in the position to guarantee fair-priced (let alone broadband) access, but such stories should inspire African leadership to think twice about how they allocate resources and set long-term goals.