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Scandinavians push the envelope with latest wave of internet policies

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Sure they might see just three hours of sunlight a day during the winter months and need to take out a mortgage in order to purchase a pint of beer at the local pub, but those Scandinavians have it all figured out when it comes to the World Wide Web.

Last week the Swedish government announced an ambitious plan to ensure that 90 percent of its population has access to broadband internet at speeds of 100 megabits per second by 2020. Currently, 89 percent of the country’s 9.2 million citizens have internet access (Australia has 79.6%), but the minimum mandated speed is just 20kb/s.

It’s a policy with almost identical goals and timing benchmarks to Australia’s recently announced National Broadband Network initiative. And in making the announcement, Åsa Torstensson, Sweden’s infrastructure minister, made a case similar to the one our own leaders have made, saying, “Although broadband access is generally good in Sweden, we still have thousands of households and enterprises with no access to broadband today. Sweden is a sparsely populated, elongated country…. The need for broadband is as great in rural areas as in other parts of the country.”

Torstensson said that Sweden would be well on the way to reaching the 2020 target by the middle of next decade, pledging that 40 percent of Swedes will have access to 100mb/s broadband by 2015.

Yet even as Sweden began boasting about its ambitious broadband strategy, it had already been trumped by its neighbour Finland, which in mid-October became the first country in the world to pass a law guaranteeing every citizen the legal right to a broadband connection. From July 2010, every Fin will have access to 1mb/s broadband. And this is just an intermediary step towards achieving the policy already announced by the Finnish government to make a 100mb/s connection a legal right for all Fins by the end of 2015.

So pull up your socks, Sweden.

Not to be left out in the cold, last week Denmark announced that 14 colleges are trialling a pilot program that permits students to access the internet during their final school year exams. All schools in the country have been invited to join the scheme by 2011.

It wasn’t so long ago that students couldn’t even bring calculators to exams. But, of course, with so much information at our fingertips (literally — most people in developed countries carry the web around with them), being skilled at finding information is as important as being able to remember it. And wasting time learning by rote kills creativity.

Japan and South Korea also have fast average national internet speeds and progressive broadband adoption policies relative to the rest of the world. It’s a competitive global landscape in which those countries with less bandwidth are at a pronounced disadvantage in business, education and myriad social pursuits.

All this is reason to be thankful that Australia has an ambitious broadband plan. But the Scandinavians are leading the world in demonstrating that delivering the platform for 21st Century information exchange is not a single project, like the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme, but an ongoing national obligation.

Paul Ryan is Editor of Anthill Magazine

Photo: Olof S

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