Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s main newspaper, ran my op-ed on wireless access on Sunday. The paper had previously quoted the mayor of Helsinki, who claimed that the city doesn’t need a municipal network. The mayor’s line prompted a response from a reader, Susanna Mukkila, who argued that the Finnish state should construct the networks. I wanted to flesh this point out a bit further. Here’s a quick translation of my comment.
Wireless Networks Create a Basis for Growth
Susanna Mukkila (HS 8.8.) suggests that the construction wireless networks should be funded with tax money. In light of history, the suggestion is wise.
Finland gained a lead in wireless because the state-owned operator Tele built the first mobile networks here. Meanwhile, the mobile communications industry got off to a wobbly start in the U.S. as the public sector lacked the will and the instruments to invest in network infrastructure.
Finns could concentrate on innovating texting culture, while in the market-driven U.S. it made no sense to keep the mobile phone on, as the network coverage was spotty and the receiving party paid.
Now there is a disruption going on in the telecommunications industry. People are calling and messaging each other for free on the internet. This is destructive to the teleoperators, but for innovations that spur economic growth, it’s not such a bad thing.
As the cost of access drops, the spending on content actually increases. One would think the money flowed into Hollywood, but it doesn’t.
Few people are willing to pay for ready-made content online. Instead, millions are subscribing to services created by new growth companies, that make it possible to self-publish photos, music playlists, and keep a blog for instance.
Many believe that the rapid spreading of Wi-Fi is a factor that helps to explain the growing popularity of these services. The industry agrees that wireless broadband will be an even more important driver of growth in the future.
History tends to repeat itself. New services spring up where consumers have terminals; and there is an incentive to buy terminals where an affordable, reliable network is in operation.
This has been noted not only by Finnish cities who offer a Wi-Fi network, such as Oulu and Lahti, but also by some Americans – wisened by their mistake?
For instance, Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, promised in his speech: “We won’t stop until every San Franciscan has access to a free wireless internet service.”
Helsinki has know-how. It can offer a wireless network through its energy company, like many other Nordic cities have done, if it so chooses.
It can also collaborate with commercial operators, manage the network infrastructure, and let the operators handle the services.
If Helsinki doesn’t acknowledge its strengths, its position as the pioneer of wireless culture and economy becomes questionable to say the least.
It’s nice to see the comment published… but can anyone tell me what the drawing is trying to communicate?