Wireless access for rural areas

RegioStars 2010 FinalistThe eRegio project sought to bridge the broadband gap in North Karelia, a sparsely populated region in eastern Finland previously lacking wireless or fixed network access. Today, nearly 98% of households and businesses in the 14 municipalities concerned are eligible for high-speed Internet access, compared to only 74% when the project was launched in 2004. The new network enhances economic competitiveness by putting the region on an equal footing with urban areas.

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Eregio brings high-speed broadband to farmers in rural areas. Copyright: European Commission Eregio brings high-speed broadband to farmers in rural areas. Copyright: European Commission

“Having broadband access allows farmers in the area to get information quickly about EU funds and submit their applications. The second group is families with children, because they are the main users of fast broadband connections. Today when people move, the first question is, do you have broadband in your house?”
Jarmo Heiskanen, manager of information services, Regional Council of North Karelia

An answer to a public need

When regional authorities asked citizens if they needed broadband, the response was an overwhelming “yes”. Built by a local telecom company, the wireless network and traditional ADSL are now available to residents, companies, farmers and holidaymakers in most of the heavily rural municipalities – where there is an average of only eight inhabitants per square kilometre. Although the geographical distances are still there, having the infrastructure in place makes people feel included in the information society.

Creating an information society

The project started in 2004 with a study showing the extent of the broadband gap in rural areas, where telecommunications operators previously refused to invest without public subsidies.

Working hand in hand with citizens, public administration, operators and investors, the municipalities turned to the regional authority for support and assistance in coordinating public procurement. A local telecom provider won the tender in most municipalities to build the wireless technology network and provide services for users, after agreeing to comply with EU state aid rules and committing to continue the service after the project ended.

To spread the news about the new network and generate excitement among citizens, project managers used a wealth of communication tools including newspaper articles, village meetings and questionnaires.

The main focus of these development activities was to enhance the attractiveness, competitiveness and positive public image of the rural areas and the region as a whole – and to stimulate economic growth.

In coming years, the region plans to build a fibre-optic network covering the so-called ‘white’ and market failure areas as part of Finland’s new national broadband strategy. Although this will bring huge challenges, authorities hope to draw on all the lessons learned from the eRegio project.

Draft date