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Elektrilevi wants to take on broadband 'last mile' issue

The goal is to bring high-speed broadband internet to all parts of the country.
The goal is to bring high-speed broadband internet to all parts of the country. Source: (ERR)

Elektrilevi, Estonia's largest network operator, wants to build an open communications network and, through it, extend broadband access to areas of the country currently still stuck with slow fixed internet connections.

According to the company, Elektrilevi does not want to begin providing internet access to clients, but rather build an open communications network open to use by all communications companies.

"Similarly to how all nearly 20 electricity providers can sell electricity on the distribution network, the open communications network would likewise function based on the provision of communications services," explained Elektrilevi board chairman Jaanus Tiisvend.

To develop broadband communications, Elektrilevi intends to utilize existing power grid infrastructure, to which fiber-optic cable will be installed.

"By combining the construction and administrative costs of multiple kinds of infrastructure, society can benefit from significantly more inexpensive services overall," the board chairman explained.

According to Tiisvend, the synergy in the shared management of street lighting and the power grid brought with it considerably lower expenses and improved quality of lighting services.

"We can see that a similar shared management model would allow us to bring broadband connections to as many Estonian homes as possible in a cost-effective and quality manner," he added.

Next year, Elektrilevi plans on introducing pilot projects in various regions across Estonia, the goal of which is to test the construction and management of connected networks using various technical solutions and in various conditions.

"We will carry out pilot projects both in densely- and sparsely-populated regions," said Taavo Randna, director of product development and services at Elektrilevi. "Based on the results of our testing, we will determine the most effective and cost-effective solutions for various areas."

Government planning public procurement

The Estonian government, meanwhile, is planning on announcing a public procurement for the extension of broadband connections to the country's rural areas.

The procurement will be open to large companies, such as Elektrilevi and Telia, which have already taken steps of their own to help build a nationwide high-speed internet network.

According to Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology Urve Palo (SDE), Telia has received €50 million from its main office to begin building the last mile of high-speed internet across Estonia, and Elektrilevi has taken steps in the same direction as well.

The government is now of the position that the state cannot invest where the market is already working.

"Consequently, we have decided that we will announce a general public procurement in which we call to participate companies who would cover all of Estonia with a modern internet connection, including in sparsely-populated areas," Palo explained. She noted that this would be part of the package, it would be done over the course of five to seven years, and residents' contributions would be limited to no more than €200 per household."

As businesses have an economic interest in bringing broadband internet to densely-populated areas, the key question will be how to convince them to extend broadband coverage beyond such areas.

Telia Eesti CTO Kirke Saar told ETV news broadcast "Aktuaalne kaamera" that their company's being mentioned in the ministry's statement came as a surprise to them.

According to Saar, the topic is as of yet too fresh to comment on future developments. She stressed, however, that Telia had launched its internet network development project last year already.

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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