In the most remote villages of Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland, access to high-speed internet has been made by Fuenteovejuna – all at once – with some support from the European Union. Twenty cooperatives from 31 villages in the region joined the Fiber to the North project to build a fiber optic network that already connects more than 3,000 homes.
In an environment where population density falls to the lonely level of two inhabitants in ten square kilometers, connectivity is key. Antii Haukipuro is one of the local volunteers who have literally put fiber optics in the Arctic circle. For Suvanto Care, the startup of which he is founder and executive director, access to this service was almost a matter of life or death. “The fiber optic has allowed us a new mode of telecommunication. Meetings with remote clients, training and maintenance work can be done from home with a very stable 1 GB network. It is even better than the connections of most offices located in the city, “explains the entrepreneur.
his startup, which specializes in technologies to offer healthcare and healthcare services to people with dependency, is already operational throughout Finland and has pilot projects underway in Norway and Australia. “Business operations can be handled well from the field since meetings usually require customer visits,” he explains. However, until the arrival of the optical fiber, this model was the only one possible, given the instability and limitations of the existing connections in the place of residence of Haukipuro, Rautiosaari. “Video calls for remote meetings are essential.” And let’s not forget Netflix and its counterpart platforms. Or security systems. Or Alexa.
Fiber to the North was born in 2016, with a budget of about three hundred thousand euros, which combined resources from different Finnish public institutions of the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. At the close of the project, the latter entity had contributed 3.2 million euros more, given the success of the early stages of the development of high-speed broadband networks in Lapland.
“When I heard about the project, I immediately contacted the leader, Seppo Alatörmänen, and asked him how the community of our people could participate in it,” recalls the entrepreneur. He began by testing some neighbors and friends, and ended up founding a cooperative to organize the works and manage the network in the future. Haukipuro was responsible for the administrative management of the project and assumed the presidency of the cooperative’s board of directors. “We went house to house asking who was interested in having fiber optic and what seemed an acceptable cost, we looked for financing for the design work and we started to plan the network.” In this phase, the municipal authorities also put their grain of sand with the granting of small loans. In addition, during the development of the project, the continued support of these entities was essential, as they promised to continue financing the works while European funds arrived.
When the work started, his cooperative – one of the twenty that made the project possible – already had a hundred members. “In addition, we divided the work, so that the board members were responsible for different sectors, such as implementation and technical aspects,” he adds. Although the cooperatives hired companies to build the networks, the support of the volunteers, who spent more than 3,200 hours on Fiber to the North, was essential to keep the cost of the works at bay. Haukipuro himself took part in all stages, from design to implementation, through the cleaning of trees and the installation of devices in homes.
“In this small town we have a long history of doing things together,” he says. If a volunteer started to cut trees, after an hour he had people from other houses around him throwing a wire, he says.
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The first connection of Antii Haukipuro did not exceed 0.2 MB. Now he has 10,000 times that. However, he says that not even in the time of thin cows, he decided to move to the city. “The location of a business like this is not the most important thing,” he says. But undertaking in the Finnish countryside is not without challenges. “The biggest disadvantage is probably the availability of employees in rural areas. It is easier to find employees and offices in the city,” he admits. However, warehouses are cheaper away from demanded and expensive urban spaces.
Are there good times to go to undertake the town? Haukipuro sees business opportunities as long as there is fiber. “In addition, fiber optic contributes to the vitality of rural areas,” he adds. “It has been shown that more and more people want to move from the city to the countryside. Fiber projects remove barriers to rural life.”