Southern Estonians want refund after high-speed internet project flops ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

High-speed internet is still slow to reach rural parts of the country.
High-speed internet is still slow to reach rural parts of the country. Source: ERR

Two years ago, the nonprofit Eesti Andmesidevõrk, which represents Southern Estonian local governments, introduced its "Internet koju" ("Internet Home") project as the Baltics' largest internet project, promising to bring broadband internet to the majority of people living in rural areas. The nonprofit has been unable to deliver on its promises, however, and many of those who signed up for the project are now asking for their money back.

Aigar Kalk is one of 6,000 Southern Estonian residents who responded to Eesti Andmesidevõrk's request, submitted an application and paid €153 to sign up for the installation of high-speed internet at his home along the Latvian border.

"This would give me the opportunity to work from home; it would give me the opportunity to monitor my household; it would also allow for smart home solutions," Kalk said, explaining his interest in high-speed internet.

Eesti Andmesidevõrk promised a couple of years ago that they would hook 90 percent of Southern Estonian residents up with high-sped internet, and people were encouraged to subscribe. In late November, however, subscribers were sent a letter.

"That no, as the state is not providing any more funding, then you are completely out of this project, but we will keep dealing with it, and it's possible that within the next two years, you may still get this connection," Ave Tamra, another resident interested in the program, noted that the letter said.

"As officials from the Ministry of Economic Affairs have arbitrarily made decisions regarding the funding of the basic network for the past three years, Eesti Andmesidevõrk has not received enough funding, and as a result, it will not be possible for us to deliver high-speed internet to as many people requesting it as we had initially planned," Eesti Andmesidevõrk representative Hanna Kaplan said.

Kaplan added that approximately 6,000 people have subscribed with the nonprofit by now, half of whom have been sent notices by the nonprofit that they can have fiber-optic cable connections installed.

The Estonian government had promised local governments €20 million for the construction of the so-called "last mile" of high-speed internet infrastructure, but thereafter decided that a public procurement would be announced for the construction of the local access network, open to major companies such as Elektrilevi and Telia. Despite this message, Andmesidevõrk didn't give up its plans, and instead continued collecting subscriptions and building its basic network.

"Eesti Andmesidvõrk has its own plans, which are greater than those that the state is capable of implementing, and taking regional balance and equitable distribution between counties into account, we haven't been able to satisfy any further requests due to the exhaustion of funds," said Raigo Iling, adviser at the Communications Department of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications.

Consumers have also not understood why Andmesidevõrk won't use the basic network built by the Estonian Broadband Development Foundation (ELAS SA), which is meant for use by all service providers. Andmesidevõrk, however, says that proximity of an existing basic network is not the only criteria involved in construction of the last mile. Also important, for example, is population density.

"I ask how many households need to join you to get this connection, but there is no answer for this either," Tamra said. "They will not publish the criteria based on which one might decide whether or not they want to join Andmesidvõrk or not."

Andmesidevõrk has promised to refund money to anyone who does not receive high-speed internet via their project soon.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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