For many of us, high-speed internet access is mostly used for checking our Instagram accounts, watching Netflix or following our local football team. But for people in remote rural communities, there can be very different motivations for wanting a fast and reliable broadband connection.
When it is many hours’ drive to the largest town or city, access to broadband can be truly revolutionary. For young people living in these communities, broadband can bring new possibilities for remote education, allowing them to combine their career ambitions with staying part of the communities where they grew up. For others, it can have positive effects on their healthcare, as medical appointments can be made online without having to drive long distances to a doctor’s surgery.
For the people of Finnish Lapland, the challenges involved in installing a high-speed internet connection can seem daunting. Located within the Arctic Circle, Northern Finland’s administrative capital Rovaniemi receives only six minutes of daylight during December. For large parts of the year, temperatures are well below freezing and the ground is covered in heavy snowfall. Distances between different villages can also be exceptionally large, preventing the economies of scale that commercial internet companies rely on in areas that are more populous. So what do you do when standard providers cannot help? The solution: Broadband cooperatives run by the communities themselves.
Based on the LEADER principles, which encourages bottom-up cooperation between communities initiatives, the ‘Kuitua pohjoiseen’ project, involved local villagers in filling the gap. Benefitting from €126,149 in European rural development funding plus €174,206 in regional funds, the scheme has helped these rural communities gain the skills, knowledge and connections to help themselves.
The results have been impressive, having organised 70 events across the region and mobilized 1432 participants, 31 villages have now gained access to broadband. For Katri Jylha, the secretary of the Kinisjarvi-Vuola village association, the impact has already been felt:
“The project has been a tremendous help for us living in rural villages. We now have reliable internet access; prior to the project, we did not know that this was possible. New families have moved to our villages, and they are able to work and study remotely. Even the youth are excited because the connections are stable. We could not have done this without the project. We would not know what to do and how to build the network.”
Kuitua pohjoiseen made extensive use of successful examples of rural broadband projects to help communities envisage how a program such as theirs could deliver. Now however, it is the Kuitua Pohjoiseen project that can now serve as inspiration for other similar initiatives in Europe’s less populace regions.