The Finns have fallen for the Internet in a big way. Their sparsely-inhabited country boasts the world's densest information network relative to population. For every thousand inhabitants, there are 65 server computers, compared with 38 in the USA, 43 in Norway and 39 in Iceland. Finland really is way out in front when it comes to using the Internet. The country has only 5.1 million inhabitants and 2.2 million (43%) of them are regular visitors to the virtual world.
This enthusiasm for information networks is largely due to the skills that people are learning at workplaces and schools, in addition to which the threshold to having a computer at home is being lowered all the time as prices fall. One in five Finnish homes now has a computer. Telecommunications networks are likewise expanding and developing at a breathtaking pace. Deregulation has further intensified competition and speeded up digitalisation, thereby creating ideal conditions for modem links.
Students love surfing
The haves and have-nots of Cyberspace
Finland already has more web sites than all of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean put together. That item of information emerged in the run-up to the latest meeting of the UN Economic and Social Committee (ECOSOC) in New York, a city that has a stronger presence in the Internet than the whole continent of Africa.
The Internet began when some American universities began linking up with each other's computers around 25 years ago. Today the network has grown into an amoeba-like entity that spans the globe and offers everything to everyone. That is also a feature for which it has been criticised. There are some cautionary examples of misuse of the net, such as young people downloading instructions to build bombs. The way in which one Finnish search engine is used indicates what surfers are looking for on the 'Net: the most-used keywords in autumn 1996 were "porn" and "sex".
The most ardent surfers are students, who account for 40 per cent of all visits to the Web. Women aged over 30 are the most passive group in this respect.
Distance working revolution still to come
The ease with which information can now be transferred and accessed has had remarkably little impact on the number of distance workers. No more than 30,000 people in Finland describe themselves as full- or part-time distance workers. That is a very low number, given that 200,000 say their work is of a kind that could be done from home. Most distance workers are in the private sector.
The European Union's information society strategy includes the goal of creating 10 million jobs for distance workers by the end of the century. It is an achievable goal where the technology is concerned, but the snag is that distance working calls for a change in attitudes that is yet to materialise.
University network gets up to speed!
No one could ever accuse Finnish universities of lacking motivation. Funet, the computer network that links them, has long been a popular Internet address. Its FTP server contains 1.2 million files, mainly computer programmes and attracts some 4,000 visitors per day.
In addition to universities and other third-level institutions of learning, around 80 research institutes are linked in the Funet network, which now has 200,000 regular users.
Advanced technologies like asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) and synchronous digital hierarchy (SDH) make Funet the world's fastest university network. Twenty transfer nodes (points of presence) all over the country facilitate a data throughput rate of 155 megabits per second. Even that impressive speed pales into relative insignificance in comparison with the goals that Funet has set itself for the future: 622 megabits per second in 1999 and a staggering 2.4 gigabits in 2001.
For more information about the technical development of the network:Center for Scientific Computing - Funet