Town’s information network bridges digital divide in Poland

The town of Szczytno in Poland’s Warmia-Masuria region has developed its own free digital network to improve access to online resources and to local government services. The network now connects schools, services and thousands of citizens to broadband internet, improving local quality of life and making the town more competitive.

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Szczytno in Poland’s Warmia-Masuria region has developed its own free digital network to improve access to online resources and to local government services. © Gmina Miejska Szczytno Szczytno in Poland’s Warmia-Masuria region has developed its own free digital network to improve access to online resources and to local government services. © Gmina Miejska Szczytno

" The project has improved the quality and availability to businesses and citizens of internet telecommunications. Thanks to e-Szczytno, more and more people can access services and information online. "

Gustaw Marek Brzezin, Marshal Warmińsko-Mazurskie

Most of the town’s citizens previously had no internet access due to lack of commercial fibre-optic infrastructure. A digital divide resulted — people without a connection were missing out on opportunities for jobs, growth, education and more convenient living. Better connectivity was needed.

The local authority installed fibre-optic cable and radio masts for free public connections. This ‘e-Szczytno’ network now has ten cabled internet access points — ‘info-kiosks’ — and 96 Wi-Fi hot spots in public spaces across the city. Public entities have a further 33 connections, including nine in schools. 

Connection benefits

In its first three years, 15 000 individual people (in public entities) or devices (in the hot spots) have accessed the internet via e-Szczytno. As this is the only online connection many citizens have, it has been vital for helping the area grow economically. It allows businesses to develop teleworking and online sales to overcome the challenge of poor public transport links with the town. It also improves access to training and education resources outside the region, especially distance- and e-learning.

Day-to-day, the network makes life easier while supporting local SMEs — people can check opening hours, addresses and telephone numbers while out and about, use remote banking and find tourist or sales information from a smartphone or tablet.

Citizens can also communicate more conveniently with town and district public bodies. Online services have been developed and standardised across the 33 entities linked to e-Szczytno, so they are more efficient. Citizens can use the free connection points to start administrative procedures, consult public records and exchange data and correspond with local authorities at any time. 

The network has saved public money over time. Government employees now use internet telephony (VoIP), which avoids phone connection costs.The fountain on the town’s Male Domowe Lake is controlled remotely, as are the town’s two security cameras. In the project’s first three years, efficiency savings from these and e-government were twice the amount that the municipal authority invested in the project.

A local service

E-Szczytno is not in competition with commercial providers, so there are a few limits. Only 15 people can use one hot spot at a time, each for no more than 30 minutes. Filters block anything harmful or offensive, as well as music and video streaming sites. Indeed, download speeds are capped at of 256 kB per second and outputs 128 kB per second.

Nevertheless, the project has increased the attractiveness of the town, along with the amount and quality of internet use, contributing significantly to eliminating the region’s digital divide.

Total investment and EU funding

Total investment for the project “e-Szczytno- construction of a wireless telecommunications network” is PLN 4 008 940, with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing PLN 3 363 152 through the “Warmińsko-Mazurskie” Operational Programme for the 2007-2013 programming period.

 

Draft date

25/09/2017