Lessons Learned from Sweden
A guest blog from Bengt G Mölleryd
In order to develop a sustainable digital economy the entire society has to be part of it, says Bengt G Mölleryd, a senior analyst at the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority (PTS), which is the national regulator for electronic communication in Sweden. Speaking at a recent event organised by the Scottish Government concerning Regulatory Options for Delivering World Class Digital Infrastructure by 2020, Bengt outlined that the goal for PTS is that all Swedes should have access to efficient, value for money and secure communications services. The Swedish Government has set a target that 90 percent of the Swedish population should have access to 100 Mbps by 2020. The ongoing development indicates that the targets are reachable, as 53 percent of the population had access to 100 Mbps by the end of last year, primarily through fibre.
In Sweden fibre is being deployed by city urban networks (owned by municipalities, utilities and is unregulated) as well as by the incumbent TeliaSonera. Most investments are made in urban areas, but there are ways to to facilitate a deployment of fibre in rural areas. A grassroots movement in Sweden called “village fibre” has emerged. The movement is driven by local communities, where people contribute with their own work, provide access to properties and make upfront payment. They also commonly receive state aid. TeliaSonera as well as other operators provide support to these local initiatives in order to safeguard quality in the network deployment and establish interconnection between ”village networks” and the wider networks.
Both Sweden and Scotland are sparsely populated outside the major cities, which means that we share the challenge to reach people that live in rural areas. For a large majority, mobile solutions are perhaps the only true choice in terms of broadband. This means that it is of vital importance that the mobile broadband networks have sufficient capacity and coverage. In the deployment of mobile networks in Sweden, network sharing has been instrumental to bring 3G to all parts of the country. PTS have been positive towards network sharing since the launch of 3G as it has facilitated the delivery of a better network with faster roll out than otherwise could have been expected. This continues with the on-going deployment of 4G. Network sharing has not yet been used for fibre deployment. It could be in the form of co-investments like geographical split, and it could also combine public and private partnership.
In extreme cases other measures are needed. In order to provide broadband to those who do not have any broadband connection PTS set up a mechanism where proceeds from one of the blocks in the 800 MHz auction are directed towards dedicated broadband customers. This is an innovative solution that will bridge some of the emerging digital divide.
However, mobile broadband remains a challenge. The rapid diffusion of smartphones with an extended usage puts heavy pressure on the networks and the concerns from consumers are rising. As a result, the Swedish Government has commissioned PTS to initiate dialogue with operators and municipalities in order to get access to existing infrastructure that could facilitate a cost efficient improvement of the mobile networks. If it works, this will make a difference.
Altogether, the lessons learned in Sweden that could contribute to a positive development in Scotland could be: (1) to form a broadband forum that addresses practical issues for the different stakeholders, one that will facilitate a dialogue between municipalities and operators in order to find cost efficient solutions that support network deployment; (2) support local communities to form a foundation to deploy “village fibre”; and (3) open access infrastructure for extensive network sharing and co-investments which could prioritise service competition rather than putting the focus on infrastructure competition.