Municipal networks work, despite hostile terain

A little regulation is best, Swedish visitor says

A scheduling conflict meant the star overseas speaker for the Digital Cities and Regional Networks conference, Sweden’s Lars Hedberg, could not travel to New Zealand.

Appropriately, he chose still to make his presentation by video, demonstrating a good use of broadband, showing by its occasional jerkiness that New Zealand still suffers bandwidth bottlenecks.

Hedberg’s account of community-owned networks in Sweden should have given pause to those (often from telcos) who complain about our country’s hostile terrain. Sweden has brought local broadband networks to 200 of its 290 municipalities, including widely scattered groups of small islands and areas where the population density is less than that of the Sahara.

The presentation was enlivened by video clips of men dragging fibre-optic cable through dense forest and other unforgiving landscapes that hardly come to mind when Kiwis consider “municipal area networks”.

The cabling and occasionally wireless linking of Swedish towns and villages has been achieved with a mixture of local and central government finance and contribution from the intending users, individual and corporate. Some tax deductibility helps. Hedberg founded the Swedish Urban Network Association, a consortium of 300 private organisations and municipal authorities.

The networks are fully unbundled, with telcos and other companies able to offer services over the same cables.

Consistent documentation is one essential for a major network, Hedberg says, as it ensures that all the networks will talk to one another without difficulty and that no-one has to reinvent the wheel.

Sometimes a little regulation is the best course, he says; in the city area of Stockholm only one company is allowed to dig up the streets. The result, he suggests, was shown in a slide of a Stockholm crew tucking a single bunch of cables tidily into a trench, in contrast to a tangled mess of competing telco infrastructure photographed in Amsterdam.

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