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It’s official. Finland has become the first country in the world to make broadband Internet access a legal right for every citizen. Through this revolutionary move designed to keep pace with ever-changing technological advances, Internet is now in the distinguished company of such fundamental rights as voting.
Beginning July 1st, any Internet service provider that operates in Finland will be required to supply a minimum of a one megabit per second (Mbps) connection to all homes, regardless of location within the country. Taking that promise even further, Finland has voiced plans to increase speeds to 100 Mbps by the year 2015. In layman’s terms, the current mandated rate allows for a basic high-speed Internet connection, and the 2015 goal speed allows for streaming video without a buffering delay.
Finland is already one of the most wired countries in the world, and approximately 96% of the 5.2 million citizens currently has online access. However, web access has been limited in rural areas, and this progressive law is aimed to literally bring these homes up to speed. About four thousand households still need an Internet connection for the country to abide by the new law.
“We think it’s something you cannot live without in modern society. Like banking services or water or electricity, you need an Internet connection,” said Laura Vilkkonen, the legislative counselor for the Ministry of Transport and Communications.
For all of the skeptics (i.e. those with an insanely expensive Comcast bill), the government is putting limitations in place to prevent extra fees from the Internet service providers. As for illegal file-sharers, Finland has decided not to follow the lead of other countries by cutting off or severely limiting their Internet access. Instead, Finland has opted for a policy where letters are sent to such violators.
Taking similar action, the UK government plans to provide 99% of its citizens with a two Mbps connection by 2012, but there is no legal mandate in which to do so. France has also declared Internet access as a human right, but it is more a commitment to the people than a binding decision.
As for the United States, approximately 46% of rural households do not have Internet access. To improve web accessibility, the Federal Communications Commission released a national broadband plan last spring with the goal of providing 100 million households with 100 Mbps connections by 2010. Moreover, on July 2nd, President Obama announced 66 new broadband grants and loans totaling $795 million and the aim of expanding high-speed Internet connections across the United States. Not too shabby for a significantly larger country.
Thus, while a healthy percentage of Americans cannot identify Finland on a map, at least the U.S. government is following Finland’s lead by taking steps to supply us with the Internet access we need to Google it.
– Kat Kubis
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