The state's current policies to connect people in rural areas of Estonia with high-speed internet is "not an efficient use of funds", the National Audit Office finds in a new report published today.
The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications' plan "requires clearer choices" about where internet needs to be introduced and "better information" about people who are waiting to be connected.
The ministry's policy to build as many access points as possible as cheaply as possible without regard to requests is not an efficient use of funds, the report said.
The government's goal to make high-speed Internet (at least 30 Mbit/s) fully available across Estonia was first given a target of 2015, then 2020 and has now been pushed back to 2030. This is despite allocating 35 million in funding to the cause.
It was also planned that by 2020, user contracts for ultra-high-speed, i.e. 100 Mbit/s or higher, wired Internet would make up 60 percent of all user contracts. In reality, only a quarter of contracts are for this speed.
"It turns out that with state support, access network has been built, among others, where there is little demand for it and the proportion of subscribers to the Internet access network is very small," said the Auditor General Janar Holm.
"It is far from being used wherever there is a possibility to join because the speed of the existing connection is sufficient for the user and faster connection would require further expenditure that the consumer is not ready for."
As of November 2021, access to nearly 13,000 address sites had been built in the first stage of building the access network. Of these, more than 3,500 customers (28 percent) have subscribed to the access network, and 2,660 customers (21 percent) have started using the Internet service.
Holm said people who may be interested in high-speed internet in remote areas often do not know when it might reach them and this information is only available a year in advance.
"Those who want it are not always offered it, and those who are offered it do not always want it," he said, characterizing the situation.
The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications (MEAC) has identified more than 200,000 address sites in market failure areas to which ultra-high-speed Internet access network points should be built, but it is not clear how to get there.
The National Audit Office, recommended the ministry prepare a realistic plan to work out how to reach households without high-speed connections. Clear priorities also need to be set.
The availability of high-speed Internet to each and every Estonian resident has been in the plans of the state for the last two decades.
According to the new development plan "Estonian Digital Society 2030" approved in 2020, ultra-high-speed, reliable and affordable telecommunications connection that allows creating and using innovative services should be available in Estonia, regardless of the location, by 2030.
In the previous audit report "Effectiveness of the development of a broadband network or high-speed Internet" published in 2015, the National Audit Office decided that because the state does not have a clear action plan, it would be difficult to make high-speed Internet available to all Estonian residents by 2020.
The report also pointed out that the state has invested primarily in the construction of the basic broadband network and neglected making high-speed and ultra-high-speed Internet available to homes and institutions.
The full report can be read here.
Editor: Helen Wright