There are more than 1000 community broadband networks in Sweden, either under construction, completed or planning to expand, according to the Swedish Broadband Forum.
These locally-owned broadband networks in rural areas are experiencing major technical, financial and legal challenges, and the Broadband Forum is calling for a greater degree of organisation for local projects so that they can support each other.
As part of the Broadband Forum's work on broadband in rural areas, the organisation carried out a survey of ‘byanäten’ or rural broadband networks across Sweden. First, it had to track down those networks. Using a variety of methods, more than 1,000 networks were identified, primarily in Southern Sweden, the majority of which are operated as co-operative societies.
Even this number does not reflect the true scale of the grass-roots activity in Sweden because some rural fibre networks have been built in cooperation with local government or sold to operators, and so don’t appear in the survey, the organisation says.
The ‘fibre to the village’ concept, which began around six years ago, is one of the main factors behind the dramatic increase in the number of community-owned fibre networks in Sweden. Started by the Swedish Urban Network Association (SSNf) together with the Federation of Swedish Farmers (LRF), the project encourages community groups to ‘take up a spade’ and dig their own fibre networks.
The project, which provides advice on a variety of technical, legal and business issues, was set up to help Sweden achieve the government’s target that 90 per cent of households should have broadband speeds of at least 100Mb/s by 2020. Government funding was also available.
Despite the obvious success of the initiative, the survey revealed that there are still significant obstacles. For example, one of the main challenges cited by survey respondents was that thousands of hours of volunteer time were required to plan and build the network, and it can be difficult to collect sufficient commitment from the village community members to move a project forward. Challenges were also experienced in dealing with the authorities, where bureaucracy and regulations are seen as obstacles to construction, and responses given were often not particularly helpful.
Lack of coordination is also seen as a problem. Each connecting around 150 households on average, rural fibre networks act largely as isolated islands, but the majority said they felt they could do much more if they shared knowledge and experience.
“The lack of support structure means that rural broadband networks must largely rely on themselves and their own skills. The majority of community networks call for increased cooperation between byanät, not least in matters relating to legal, advocacy and technology. It also means that the majority are in favour of creating a collaborative organization to streamline construction and secure the future of networks,” the report said.