Access to the Internet – A Matter of Equality

eGovernment articles

Helsinki, 8 July, 2005 — Access to the Internet – A Matter of Equality

In 2001, Sitra - the Finnish National Fund for Research and Development – implemented an extensive information society project, OSKU (Oppivat seutukunnat - Learning Regions). Regional authorities, municipalities and local business and industry contributed to the funding and implementation of the two year-project. Altogether OSKU covered 180,000 inhabitants in eight regions in Finland.

Segregated Groups in Focus

The initiative proclaimed that ICT skills and use of the Internet benefit people in their day-to-day lives, improve quality of life and deliver new opportunities for individuals and communities.
In 2001, 59 per cent of the Finnish households had a computer and 43 per cent had an Internet connection. In sparsely populated rural areas the figures were substantially lower.

The digital divide was related to the lack of telecommunications infrastructure, but also to the lack of motivation and low skill levels. The main groups still segregated from the rapid ICT development were especially the elderly and people with low income and lower educational background; the unemployed, immigrants etc.

Sitra´s objective was to find good practices and examples in drawing the segregated groups into information society by implementing local “grass root” actions.

Local Know-How Essential

The networks and cooperation skills of the local citizens, associations and volunteers, and their connections to other stake holders in the area were essential to the success of OSKU. Efficient communication tools (web sites, intranet systems) proved to be necessary, when the inhabitants wished to have an impact on issues concerning their environment. Digital dialogue with the municipality was needed, but the locals were also able to provide accurate "inside" information into the net.

Success in Narrowing the Gap

OSKU had a positive impact on information society development in several areas. Thousands of people without earlier ICT-education were encouraged to utilize the Internet, and computers and Internet connections were purchased more eagerly than in other areas nationwide. However, differences between rural and urban areas still exist.

Sustainability became a challenge, as not all the municipalities took responsibility for the activities after the project. All the services – education, local web portals, Internet access points – are quite expensive to maintain. A large network of access points was expensive to maintain. Provision of broad band connections to the distant rural areas and the quality and price of the broad band would be essential.

Only the permanent changes in the ways people use and benefit from digital technology in the daily life tell us, if the intervention of OSKU has been successful.

The writer, Ms. Heli Rantanen, was a Project Manager in one of Sitra’s eight OSKU –projects, Nettimaunula, in Helsinki 2001-2003. All Sitra’s activities are designed to promote the economic prosperity of the Finnish people.

The article is published in ICT Cluster Finland Review 2005.

More information
heli.rantanen@hut.fi
ICT Cluster Finland Review 2005
http://www.sitra.fi