Today, digitalization is one of the most influential global megatrends. It has radically and fundamentally changed the foundation of all activities in our society, and will continue to do so in ways that we cannot possibly predict. It has the potential to generate growth, innovation, welfare and sustainability, as well as transform the way we understand democracy, security and personal integrity.
Since Greece successfully concluded its third stability support program, I understand that the overriding priority here has been to ensure a sustainable and inclusive economic recovery. Like Greece, Sweden seeks to tap into the full potential of digitalization to create new possibilities in rural areas which can promote entrepreneurship and improve social equality. In our countries, we can overcome challenges related to remote and sparsely populated areas by using digital solutions. That is why Sweden recently adopted a clear and comprehensive rural policy. The general objective is a viable countryside with equal opportunities for business, innovation, education, work, housing and welfare, ensuring long-term sustainable development throughout the country.
Sweden is at the forefront of digital transformation. It has the second most advanced digital economy in the European Union according to the Digital Economy and Society Index. More than 99.99 percent of all households and enterprises have access to broadband through the 4G network. More than 70 percent of Swedes have access to superfast fiber-optic broadband capable of at least 100 megabits per second (Mbps). But we cannot rest on our laurels. That is why my government adopted a digital strategy with an ambitious objective: Sweden should become a global leader in harnessing the opportunities of digital transformation. Our strategy focuses on five interim goals, of which digital infrastructure is a key element.
Access to high-speed broadband is a precondition for a viable countryside. The target is threefold: By 2020, 95 percent of all households and businesses should have access to broadband at a minimum capacity of 100 Mbps; by 2023, all of Sweden should have access to reliable high-quality mobile services; and, by 2025, the entire country should have access to high-speed broadband, which implies that 98 percent of all households and businesses should have access to 1 gigabits per second (Gbps), 1.9 percent of all households and businesses should have access to 100 Mbps and that 0.1 percent of all households and businesses should have access to 30 Mbps.
Our digital transformation is a collaborative effort between the public and private sectors. The actors in the broadband market include large businesses involved in nationwide deployment of either fixed or wireless broadband or both, municipal networks deploying broadband within their geographical boundaries and many small local fiber associations ensuring broadband deployment within their communities. Having many different actors in the Swedish market is a strength that has contributed to the high level of connectivity we enjoy, despite great distances and sparsely populated areas.
Broadband deployment in Sweden is characterized by significant private sector investment and a high level of demand from citizens and businesses. Its expansion is market-driven, but complemented by public sector efforts. A total of approximately 10 billion euros was invested in fixed and wireless broadband in 2009-17. It is not uncommon for a Swedish household to pay up to 2,000 euros for a fiber connection. In cases where broadband could not be deployed on market terms, the European Fund for Rural Development and the European Regional Development Fund provided support to the tune of almost 650 million euros for the period 2014-20.
Sweden has around 30,000 islands, of which about 200 are inhabited. However, take for example the largely agricultural island of Gotland, which received the European Broadband Award in 2017 for its innovative models of financing, business and investment. The rollout of broadband has equipped at least 85 percent of permanent homes, 50 percent of holiday homes and 85 percent of enterprises with fiber-optic broadband. Public spending was 4.3 million euros, of which 2 million came from EU funds. The inhabitants of Gotland payed 12 million euros. To reduce costs, people offered their land for cable rollout, worked three days for free and even dug trenches themselves. Now, at least 57,000 people on this mainly rural island have fiber-optic broadband. This success is a result of forward-looking planning by the regional authority, covering both broadband rollout and digitalization, a very active broadband coordinator and significant local engagement from farmers and other residents.
In my role as minister for rural affairs, I believe there is a need for Greece and Sweden to work jointly to keep Europe at the forefront of digital evolution, embrace and foster the potential of digital technologies, ensure connectivity and improve the quality of life of all citizens in rural areas and the competitiveness of European farms and rural businesses.
Together, Greece and Sweden must take advantage of the powerful opportunities digitalization offers. Therefore, I am very pleased to take this discussion further in Athens, both at the Hellenic-Swedish Chamber of Commerce’s 5th Business Forum on “Digitalization: The Future for Greece” on March 19 at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center and at the OECD Regional Development Ministerial meeting “Megatrends: Building Better Futures for Regions, Cities and Rural Areas” on March 19-20 at the Megaron Athens International Conference Center.
Jennie Nilsson is Sweden’s minister for rural affairs. Nilson will participate in the Fifth Business Forum Greece-Sweden: “Digitalization: The Future for Greece,” at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center on March 19.