Internet access - the Finnish way

I recently made a post on Facebook and Twitter about my experience in setting up a broadband connection for my new apartment and it turned in to an interesting little discussion. So I thought I'd write about it here, so that other people who aren't connected to me can also get some idea of what goes on here in Finland compared to my experiences in the UK.

Basic internet access is, by law, a human right here in Finland. So every person residing here must be provided some access by one of the main ISPs. It was made law in 2009 and while the law states that the minimum requirement is a 1mbs connection, most places go above and beyond this.

The place I'm living in at the moment (until Saturday) is a student apartment block. When I moved in last year, they provided a basic 2mbs connection. A few months ago they did what a lot of other building owners are doing, and upgraded the connectivity in the building. That meant that every person in the building got a 50mbs connection completely for free with the option to upgrade to 100mbs for 10 euros.

This also means that all the people that live in the middle of nowhere (and there's a lot of them in the wildernesses of Finland) also have to be provided this basic internet. This means the ISPs have to extend and enhance their infrastructure,even out to completely remote places. This is great as it means when the likes of me, or any other city dweller, heads out to the forest or one of the 200-odd-thousand lakes here, you can still get connectivity on your various devices via direct 3 or 4G, or via dongles for your laptops or netbooks. Everyone is winning here!

man with laptop standing in a field

In the UK, you'd be lucky to even live in an area that could get such speeds, and even now this tends to be limited to the bigger town and city locations - there are people that live in areas that aren't even THAT remote, yet can't get a decent broadband connection as the ISPs haven't implemented the infrastructure - there are still people in 2014 using those dial-up modems plugged in to their phone sockets! Most ISPs will advertise 'up to xx mbs',but you're never likely to get anywhere near that speed. Within the UK, for a 50mbs connection,you'd also be looking at paying through the nose. While deals are out there for people who know where to look, the higher-end connection speeds command either a high monthly fee (normally as part of a tv/phone bundle) and/or fibre optic connectivity (which is still very limited in the UK). Also, going about getting a new connection in the UK can be a pain. Phone lines and connections need to be transferred and in my experience it can take anywhere up to a month to get you line and connectivity activated and working.

Let's hope you don't live too far away from those cabinets...

The UK government has recently pledged to get 90% of the country on to 'super fast' broadband in the next 10 (yes, TEN) years. 'Super fast' is defined by the EU as a connection of 20mbs or higher. Users will still obviously be completely at the mercy ofthe ISPs and while they may offer 'up to 50mbs' speeds, most users most experience anywhere near the advertised speeds. Here in Finland, both my broadband and mobile data speeds consistently hit at least 45mbs all across the capital region at all times of the day.

Now take my buying experience this week in Finland. I went on to the Saunalahti website to look at their prices. We already have two mobile phone accounts and my MacBook Pro through them, so it made sense to just keep everything under one account.

As I was looking about a Chat window popped up asking me if I needed any help. I asked the guy what speeds and prices they could offer me, gave him my postcode, and produced a list of results for me. The main options were 50mbs for 14.90, 100mbs for 19.90 or 250mbs for 39.90. DNA, another ISP here, even offer 350mbs. You can even, quite easily, get fibre optic installed in your house for under 2k - bringing with it free internet and cable tv subscriptions - a great option if own a place and want to get the best speeds and future-proof it at a reasonable cost.

The basic offerings with Saunalahti

I said to him I wanted to get the 100mb connection and that I would contact them by phone or go in to a shop to arrange it. "Don't bother" he said. "We can just do it all here in the chat window!". I had to confirm a few details and agree to what we'd discussed (the chat conversations are saved to your account as proof), and that was it. Job done.

Again, if you compare this to the UK - you would spend ages waiting to chat to someone, you'd then most likely end up with an offshore operator who wouldn't understand your question, you'd explain it all again, give over your details and eventually get an answer. You'd then decide you wanted it, but you'd be told that due to data privacy and as they cannot sufficiently ID&V you over chat, you'd have to call someone. You'd then go through an automated phone system and then end up talking to a sales person. You'd have to explain everything over again, get the order set up and then probably have numerous other products pushed onto you. After declining them and repeated for about the 5th time you have what you want/need,you'd be told it's been confirmed and that it would be working in about 2-4 weeks time.

Customer service is generally poor here in Finland, but this process was excellent and so easy. UK companies could really learn something here,both in regards to how they deal with customer queries and orders, as well as how to implement and maintain a powerful, reliable and consistent infrastructure and service.

What's your experience been like getting broadband in the UK or Finland? Are you getting the speeds and connectivity you expected? Leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts.