Internet in Sweden

By: Jim Semmelroth, Missoula Public Library Network Manager
 There are some big differences between Sweden and the United States regarding the infrastructure providing Internet access.  Here at the public library in Missoula, a DSL circuit costs us $110/mo for a 15 MB circuit, if I sign up for a 3 year contract.  And I would only have a few different vendors to choose from.  These costs can often be higher, and sometimes there is only a single vendor, for many of the more rural areas in the rest of Montana.  We also have a variety of infrastructure technologies providing service.  DSL and cable are common, fiber is rare, and wireless is often used for those hard to reach places.

Sweden is one of the best connected countries in the world.  As of today, fiber is already run to 80-90% of end users in the country.  Any of these users are able to purchase bandwidth at rates in the range of $40/mo for a 100MB circuit, and .5 GB and 1 GB options are available also.  A user can also choose from a dozen or more vendors from which to purchase bandwidth.

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An example of technology in Sweden–A green screen room with computers for creating videos. Photo by Logan Castor Parson.

That is the background which, I think, explains why we saw fewer public access PCs in the libraries in Sweden than I see in libraries I have visited here in Montana.  Here in my own library, we have a room dedicated to public access computers with 21 stations in it.  We also have two other areas with public access computers and many other stations dedicated to specific tasks, genealogy, for example.  So in our main branch, we have 34 stations available for general surfing for the public.  The main group of those, in our Web Alley, gets about 85% usage.

In Sweden, I was struck by how few stations were made available to the public for general Internet access.  The main public library in Stockholm, the largest city in Sweden, probably had about as many stations available to the public as little ol Missoula.  We were in the library during a busy time and only about half of those stations were being used.  The other libraries we visited had fewer stations available, and those stations were not used as heavily as what we saw at the main Stockholm library.

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Another example of technology in Sweden–a DJ station in one room of a library. Photo by Logan Castor-Parson.

I think our trip to Sweden has provided a snapshot of what the future of Internet access looks like here in western Montana.   There are currently some promising efforts being made here in Missoula to extend the reach of fiber, but a future comparable to Sweden is still quite a ways off.  As access to faster and cheaper Internet access becomes more ubiquitous here in Missoula, the need for the library to provide stations and bandwidth will diminish because so many more homes will have their own access.  The reasons why that future is so far off are more political and corporate than technological, but whatever the root cause, the end result is that the library will need to continue to provide access to the Internet.  Rest assured we will do so with as much bandwidth and as many stations as we can support for as long as the community needs this service.  And someday, in a brave new world, the Missoula community will not need this service as much as it does now.

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