By way of introduction, it can be noted that multiple political steering documents clearly express the importance the Government and the Swedish Parliament associate with the access to infrastructure in all parts of the country. Access to and use of electronic communications are important conditions for growth and employment.
The Swedish Post and Telecom Agency (PTS) conducted a survey of broadband that was published in 2010. This survey by the Swedish Agency for Growth Policy Analysis (Growth Analysis) provides a supplemental view of what availability and use of broadband looks like for small enterprises in rural and sparsely populated areas. The method used to describe this is based in part a geographic description of the theoretical supply of various broadband capacities (building on data from PTS (1) ) and in part on interviews conducted of small business operators and municipal representatives in rural municipalities. A questionnaire survey was also conducted by Statistics Sweden on behalf of Growth Analysis and the Internet Infrastructure Foundation (.SE). There are two main action categories with the aim of increasing access to and use of IT; on one hand, actions that aim to stimulate infrastructure expansion in various ways and, on the other, actions that aim to raise the level of skill and increase awareness of the benefits of using IT, of which the first is currently prioritised.
This becomes clearly apparent when the results from the PTS broadband survey are translated from geographic areas defined based on availability into towns with various population sizes. The further out in the periphery an area is located, the worse the supply of broadband is. This is true of areas throughout the country, not just inland Norrland, although the geographical distances are the largest there. Access to 100 Mbit/s or more is reserved for the areas close to large cities. Growth Analysis’ review also shows that 30 per cent of the micro-workplaces in areas with very low accessibility lack access to broadband with a capacity of 10 Mbit/s, which is better than compared with all workplaces, of which a whole 40 per cent lack capacity over 10 Mbit/s. The fact that micro-workplaces are established to a greater extent in areas with relatively good broadband capacity may be because access to good capacity determines the geographic establishment of the workplace.
Based on the in-depth interviews conducted with micro-enterprises in rural and sparsely populated areas, it can be confirmed that, from their perspective, the existence of continuous access to stable broadband capacity for both uploading and downloading is the most important. Mobile solutions are not as reliable as fixed solutions over fibre. As business operators, they must be able to rely on the technology working to be a credible partner, such as in online sales of goods and services. Depending on the needs the businesses have and what broadband capacity is available, they have chosen different technical solutions to develop their operations.
In order to adequately follow up on the Government's broadband strategy, there are currently two main areas of improvement to continue working on. On one hand, the geographic analysis can be improved and, on the other, a better, more thorough statistical picture can be provided. In addition to this, better coordination among agencies and forms of support, as well as support of training efforts, are requested.
More detailed geographic description and analysis
Growth Analysis’ review shows that a more detailed and nuanced description can be provided of what the supply of broadband looks like in various parts of Sweden. Here, continued cooperation between PTS and Growth Analysis can be established by the Growth Analysis accessibility model being used in combination with the PTS broadband survey.
Statistics should be supplemented with in-depth interviews of business operators
The available statistics will always suffer from considerable lag due to rapid technical development in the IT field. Consequently, only monitoring development based on statistical data is not enough. It is therefore important to supplement statistical data with in-depth interviews in order to monitor the micro-enterprises’ need for and use of the Internet and how they leverage the on-going technology shift. The sample size should be relatively large and questionnaires/interviews could tentatively be conducted every three years. The sample should also be supplemented with business operators from agriculture and forestry, since these industries have not been included in earlier studies. The sample should also be large enough to reflect industry and industry affiliation.
(1) PTS Broadband Survey 2009
IT in rural areas – IT use with a focus on micro-enterprises