Friday, July 16, 2010
Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité and Universal Access to Broadband
The 14th of July, the national holiday of France. A day filled with military parades, fireworks and patriotism. As I was watching President Nicolas Sarkozy reviewing the troops on the Champs-Elysées, I thought about the values of Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité and how France has provided universal healthcare, five weeks of vacation and a 35-hour work week for its citizens and wondered if it would follow Finland's lead and declare access to at least 1 megabit per second broadband a right for all citizens. Residents of Helsinki have had reasonably priced broadband access for quite sometime but rural Finns -- approximately four percent of the population -- have had to do without. And, without some form of government support, it would be prohibitively expensive to reach those four percent. What is interesting is not that the Finnish government is providing another benefit to its citizens but rather that it has realized that broadband access to the Internet is an essential development tool -- as essential as providing electricity to rural America was in the 1930s. Without broadband Internet access rural Finns would essentially be cut-off from the rest of the world. With it, they have similar access to commerce, culture, communication and information that their urban Helsinki countrymen have. Now that is what I call closing the Digital Divide.