There is an intriguing paradox going on in Finland. The country is hoping to become a key data center location in the digital world (and not without merit), but at the same time the infrastructure needed to access that digital world by the end users is in many places being demolished. Is this a viable path?
Finland, one of the best locations for data centers in the world
Around two weeks ago, Oxford Research published its report, Finland’s Giant Data Center Opportunity. In the report, the research company outlines how Finland has numerous strengths when considering data center locations:
- World-class energy infrastructure (99.9998% transmission reliability, one of the lowest electricity prices in Europe, favorable taxation for energy-intensive industry)
- Good network connections (22nd in Europe for international bandwidth, to be improved in the future via a submarine fiber cable to Germany)
- Cool climate, access to water (cool climate reduces air conditioning costs, Google’s data center in Hamina is cooled with seawater)
- No natural disasters (solid bedrock soil, no tornados or tsunamis)
- Favorable regulation, including protection from governmental surveillance
- Available land and workforce
Based on these factors, it is no wonder that Finland is already a site for data centers from Google, Microsoft, and Yandex.
Building data infrastructure for the end users
According to the Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority (FICORA), the availability of high-speed network has improved in Finland in recent years, and now approximately 73% of Finnish households have access to a broadband connection of 30 Mbps or faster.
This improvement is attributed to two sources: commercial operators are building fiber-optic networks in cities and other densely populated areas, and there is a state-assisted broadband project that subsidizes building broadband networks in the countryside.
The dark side: functional fixed networks are being demolished in the countryside
There is, however, a small flaw to the story painted above. Network companies are actually dismantling the infrastructure in the countryside.
A small hint to this effect lies in FICORA report on broadband subscription volumes in Finland: between 2013 and 2014, the number of fixed broadband connections decreased by 7000 subscriptions.
OK, now I reveal my personal motivation to look into this: I received information from Sonera today that my connection speed is going to be halved in less than one month from 16 Mbit/s to 8 Mbit/s. You can’t find this from news anywhere, by the way.
Sonera bought the broadband services of Ainacom in the Hämeenlinna region in Finland last year. The first communication was that they will be offering even better services in the future, with more information to come. The second communication was that the connections will officially become Sonera connections in March 2015, continuing as usual. Only today I found out that continuing as usual did not mean continuing as usual at all.
According to Sonera customer service, only a minority of the subscriptions, around 500, will receive a slower connection or no fixed broadband connection at all. Yes, that’s right. Sonera is actually dismantling functional equipment, including removing existing copper cabling in order to stop providing fixed broadband connections (I’ll still have a fixed connection at least). All this while all the official information available claims that consumers will receive only improvements and no downsides whatsoever.
This is by no means the first such move by the company that dominates the Finnish landlines: between 2008 and 2014, Sonera dismantled 46.000 kilometers of copper cables and with them up to 19.000 ADSL broadband connections. This has caused occasional outbursts from angered consumers, but the official Sonera communications policy is that they categorically deny any decreases in service level.
Links to some further sources on the dismantling, unfortunately these ones are in Finnish:
OK… So what?
Is all of this relevant in the big picture? Regarding the possibilities for data centers in Finland, not really. The data center facilities will still have excellent access to fast connections, and if 70-80% of Finns have good broadband at home as well, it should be enough to ensure that there are capable employees available as well.
On the other hand, for a nation that wants to pose as a forerunner of the digital age, excluding a significant proportion of the population from modern services that require good broadband access is problematic. That part of the population will also be unable to practice digital age skills and ultimately probably just relocate to the main cities, thus further depopulating the countryside.
It is ironic that in an age when many kinds of work can be performed remotely, and thus there are actual viable options to keep the countryside populated, the means to do that are being actively destroyed in a country that wants to be a forerunner. There are plenty of innovations to be made regarding remote work and the internet of things, and a large number of people in a country claimed to be one of the most innovative in the world are prevented from innovating in that space.
Photo: Small hills by Erich Ferdinand @ Flickr (CC)