|Topic:||Finland: Forerunner of the Information Society|
|Author:||Mr. Matti Aura|
|Organisation:||Transport and Communications of Finland|
Connect-World is delighted to showcase Finland, which is one of the most advanced telecommunications countries in the world. Finland is a good example of a society where information technologies and modern communications equipment are used by ordinary citizens for common everyday purposes. Does this make Finland an information society? Here, Minister Aura tells Connect-World India’s readers about Finland’s approach towards building an information society.
Finland is a good example of a society where information technologies and modern communications equipment are used by ordinary citizens for common everyday purposes. Does this make Finland an information society? Yes and no, depending on how information society is defined and measured. Finland is definitely, in many respects, one of the most advanced telecommunications countries in the world. Geographical Information Finland is situated in northern Europe, between the 60th and 70th parallels of latitude. One quarter of its total area lies north of the Arctic Circle. The neighbouring countries are Sweden to the West, Norway to the North, Russia to the East and Estonia to the South. The surface area of Finland is 338,000 sq km (130 500 sq. miles), which makes it the 7th largest European country by area. Forests cover about 70 % of the country and lakes take up one tenth. 13% of the area is made up of bogs, arctic fells and sand. There are 80,000 islands in the coastal waters and 100,000 in the lakes. Finland has a population of 5 million. The population density is 16 inhabitants per sq km (40 per square mile). Of the total population, 38% live in rural areas and 62% in towns or urban areas. Liberalisation Finland has always had good qualifications to benefit from the new information and communications technology. As a developed welfare state, Finland has been able to offer its citizens equal opportunities and provide good skills to adopt new ways to communicate. A high standard of living and a good educational system have given good grounds for the information society to develop. The main idea of the Government has been to keep it simple. Let the market invest, the industry invent and the users decide what they really want. The role of the Government is to facilitate and to direct. The Finnish telecommunications market is among the most liberal in Europe. Competition has had a very favourable impact on pricing and on the quality of products. The liberalisation process started in 1985, almost ten years earlier than elsewhere in Europe. In 1994 the market was completely liberalised. In 1997, the new Telecommunications Market Act entered into force, aiming to deregulate the market even further. According to the new Act, only mobile telecommunications operators need a licence. The Telecommunications Market Act deals with all electronic communications networks, which makes the Act suitable also for some of the future regulative challenges, for example that of the convergence phenomena. Communications vs Information Society The information society means new ways to communicate and to use communications technology. It makes communications more effective and helps to build new coherence between people. The amount of information does not necessarily increase, but the handling, transferring or storing of data becomes easier and faster. Society becomes a communications rather than an information society. The aim for effectiveness also brings about some hazards. These relate, for example, to privacy and security issues as well as to issues of illegal or harmful content. In the spring of 1998 the Finnish Government introduced to the Parliament a bill on privacy in telecommunications and on the protection of information. This Act, it is hoped, will strengthen the customers’ confidence in telecommunications, which is necessary for an increase in electronic commerce and other electronic activities. Internet in Finland In mobile telephony and Internet penetration, Finland is the leading country in the world. According to the latest statistics every other Finn has a mobile phone (50% of Finns), which is a world record at the moment. More than 31 % of Finns have used the Internet. About 10% of the population uses the Internet regularly at home. The Internet has become widespread in Finland since 1995. The growth of the number of Internet users has doubled from 1996 to 1998. In 1997, over 1 million Finns had sometimes used the Internet. In 1997, the most significant trend was the strong growth of home use of the Internet. Almost half a million Finns between the ages of 15 and 17 had used the Internet at home. Most schools, libraries and workplaces offer Internet access. Besides the pure access figures, the statistics show a steady and gradual growth in the amount of services offered electronically or via the Internet. Electronic shopping, Internet banking and public services such as access to databases are all gaining more and more users. Consequently, the market is attracting more and more service providers. The industry itself is also growing fast. As a consequence of easy market access there are, at the moment, about 90 telecommunications operators offering telecommunications services in Finland. International competition has also increased. Successful companies, such as Nokia, have also opened doors to others. The electronics industry is already the third biggest branch of industry in Finland, right after the wood and metal industries. Like the other telecommunications markets, the Internet has grown more rapidly in Finland than in many other countries. Free market competition means a large number of Internet service suppliers and low prices. Prices for Internet services declined substantially in 1997. Many big service providers have shifted to ‘flat rate’ pricing, which means that a customer is charged a monthly fee plus local call charges regardless of the number of connections or time used. Although this has considerably increased home use of the Internet it has also encouraged competition between companies. The value of the national Internet market is US$39.4 million. The four biggest service providers account for a market share of 85%. International Co-operation The information society is international. The world is getting smaller, because technology is combining nations and people. At the same time, new technology is creating disputes and problems for solving. International co-operation is needed. As a small country Finland finds it very important to actively participate in the work of international organisations such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Conclusion At the same time, Finland is aiming to push forward the numerous European information society initiatives in the European Union (EU). It is obvious that different countries have different economic, political and cultural circumstances and conditions for developing towards information societies. Finland has chosen the liberal path. It suits the Finnish political and economic system best.