28th May 2023


Bringing high speed internet to the 'middle of nowhere'

  • There are more bears than people in parts of Finland, but that should not be a reason to miss out on high speed internet connection (Photo: Maskrachka, Toni)

As Anne-Mari Leppinen tells it, her British colleague simply could not believe that cables allowing high speed access to the internet had been laid in the middle of a forest in remote western Finland.

"He asked me: 'Do you actually have your fibre optic cable in the ditch?' I replied: 'Yes'."

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  • A remote cottage in Finland (Photo: Siwart Mackintosh)

A few kilometres later, the man, who was being driven to an IT conference in the area, felt the need for further inquiry: "Is it still there?"

"People still find it very strange that we build the networks in the forest and the woods," says Leppinen, who is ICT project manager in the Economic Development Agency of the Suupohja Region, and a self-confessed "preacher" about the benefits of open access fibre optic networks.

It was not always that way. She applied for her current post in 2005 knowing "nothing, literally nothing, about fibre. I thought it was something to eat."

Now the Suupohja Region, as part of an EU project established last year, is working with 11 different partners from nine member states to effectively brainstorm on the best way to get fibre optic networks to the countryside.

"It was a nice surprise to see that everyone wanted to come to us," says Leppinen of the staff exchanges funded by the programme. She has just seen off two Portuguese and two Slovenian colleagues.

She puts it down to the region's unusual business model.

"The network is owned by the local municipalities. It is still very unusual to have a municipality acting as an entity, building networks all the way to the final customer in the middle of nowhere," she said.

It is also the first place in Europe to allow service providers to use the network for free.

The fiber to the home (FTTH) network paid for the initiative through a combination of taking out a loan (guaranteed by the municipalities) from the bank, some national funding and the one-time connection fee of €1,500.

"The population density is 3 to 10 people per square kilometre (the EU average is 117) so we have more bears than people in some places. Still, we have been able to build connections to farms and households basically in the middle of nowhere," says Leppinen.

She says the move allows people and businesses to remain in the area. And brings others back.

She mentions a young couple who, hearing about the network, quit their jobs in Tampere, Finland's third largest city, and set up their bookkeeping business in the region: "All their files are on the cloud, so it is totally dependent on the network."

Next steps are to get all households connected and start pitching the region as a secure and climate-wise logical place for data centres.

As for Leppinen herself, she has lived in Helsinki, the US, Singapore and Vietnam.

"Now I am back in Kauhajoki," she says of the small town in Suupohja, "with my 150 megabit symmetrical connection."

This story was originally published in EUobserver's 2013 Regions & Cities Magazine.

Click here to read previous editions of our Regions & Cities magazine.

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