€15 million in supplementary budget for high-speed internet in rural areas ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Elektrilevi  cabling.
Elektrilevi cabling. Source: ERR

The bill of the supplementary budget for 2020 submitted to the Riigikogu on Thursday includes €15 million for speeding up the establishment of high-speed internet connections in rural areas, Postimees reported.

Finance Minister Martin Helme (EKRE) said: "It has been done at a pace of €5 million a year so far. The additional amount is to do with us having a clear idea of the bottlenecks now that remote working has increased massively."

Chairman of the parliamentary finance committee Aivar Kokk said that high-speed internet should be brought to as many places as possible quickly.

"Now that many people are working from home offices in rural areas and everybody's online at the same time, the speed of internet leaves to be desired even in places where it more or less met the need earlier," the Isamaa MP who took part in preparing the measure said.

Kokk said about 200,000 households across Estonia need faster internet. If the state was to make the entire investment alone, the money would suffice for 50,000 households, as the condition is that a connection must be built for €300.

One of the options discussed is to add contributions from the municipality and the household, such as the state paying €200, the municipality €50 and the household another €50.

"We also thought that families with school-age children could be exempted from own contribution," Kokk said.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications has been tasked with announcing a tender for the establishment of high-speed internet connections as soon as possible.

"It could probably be done around April 20, the conduct of the procurement would take a couple of more months - we could have the name of the builder by Midsummer perhaps," Kokk added.

Kokk said the money is to be spent over two-year period. 

Laura Laaster, PR adviser at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, said the ministry is only beginning to analyze how it would be possible to invest the €15 million into the development of broadband as effectively as possible and it was still too early to speak about specific financing arrangements.

The Estonian Broadband Foundation and the data communication network nonprofit MTU Eesti Andmesidevork have built up a relatively thin main network of high-speed internet covering all of Estonia with the support of EU structural funds.

The last mile tender in that project was won at the end of 2018 by the state-owned distribution network company AS Elektrilevi, which is about to establish 200,000 last-mile connections over a period of five years for €100 million. The own contribution of households is €199.

Oliver Ruus, head of communications services at Elektrilevi, told Postimees that during 2019, the company established a possibility to connect for 9,000 clients, of whom 1,700 actually joined the network during the year.

"This year, we have opened an additional 1,300 addresses in five counties for accession and will be opening new regions in accordance with the project plan," Ruus said.

In addition, the company Eesti Andmesidevorgu AS is planning to build broadband networks in South Estonia. A year ago the company collected an advance deposit of €153 from around  6,000 interested households.

The supplementary budget is based on the economic forecast specified by the Ministry of Finance, which forecasts an economic decline of up to 8 percent this year, unless the government introduces additional measures. It remains to be considered that the confidence limits of the forecast are wide, as the situation is changing rapidly.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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