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The Independent: Why Sweden Rules the Web

Tim Walker reporting from the epicentre of the digital world.

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STOCKHOLM (Rixstep) -- Phone calls, movies, music, TV - Stockholm has emerged as the epicentre of an online revolution, giving us all what we want, instantly, for free.

So writes the Independent's Tim Walker, the words almost taken out of Micael Dahlén's Nextopia.

'The courthouse at the corner of Scheelegatan and Fleminggatan is hardly what you'd call a marvel of modern Swedish design. Red brick, nondescript, it's the last place in Stockholm you'd go looking for a party. But if you had been there a fortnight ago, that's exactly what you'd have found.'

Walker is of course talking about the recent trial of The Pirate Bay. He also points out that things didn't go exactly as the old guard wanted.

'Instead of coming quietly, the three mischievous young men who run The Pirate Bay turned their trial into a sell-out show. Their friends from the anti-copyright think-tank Piratbyrån - 'The Pirate Bureau' - turned up every day in a brightly painted campaign bus. Student bands played for supporters outside the court and at the end of the trial's first week, the defendants threw a party at a nightclub in central Stockholm, offering free champagne to every guest.'

'Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Peter Sunde Kolmisoppi, and Fredrik Neij are already folk heroes.'

And it all connects together.


'Meanwhile on the other side of Stockholm [maybe ten minutes away on foot] a new Internet company has turned this demand for free media into a viable business model that the music industry seems willing to stomach. Spotify, launched in October last year, is a piece of music software that looks not unlike iTunes, yet allows you to listen to a vast growing catalogue of streamed tracks for free.'

 Spotify launch control at HGG20: going live 7 October 2008.

'This internet jukebox's global user numbers reached a million this week and are increasing by 20,000 a day, while its catalogue of tracks grows at a similar rate. At least 250,000 Spotify users are in the UK, where the service recently became freely available for download. And in February it executed its first big industry coup, giving users the chance to hear U2's new album a week before its physical release.'

Tech Epicentre

But Daniel Ek's Spotify is just one example of how Sweden's leapfrogged ahead of the rest of the planet, observes Walker. There's Spotify cofounder Martin Lorentzon; Peter Alvarsson of Headweb; Niklas Zennström of Kazaa, Skype, and Joost; Jonas Svensson of Spray; Jonas Birgersson of Framfab and Bredbandsbolaget; and so forth.

Bredbandsbolaget - 'the broadband company' - is still revolutionary, offering typical residential apartment complexes cheap bandwidth of 100 Mbit or more. It follows in the steps of Bahnhof who as Sweden's first independent Internet service provider could offer 10 Mbit broadband already in 1994. Nobody can match that.

'Bredbandsbolaget connected a lot of Swedes', says Spotify's Ek. 'In 1997 I was one of the top 1% of people in Europe with broadband access of 10 Mbit in both directions. That was over a decade ago and most of the UK still doesn't have that sort of access.'

Rick Falkvinge of the Pirate Party explains. 'In the rest of Europe the Internet rollout was done by telecommunications companies who had an incentive to delay it for as long as possible because it shattered their existing business model. When you put disruptive technology into everyone's hands, it changes public perceptions of what you can and should do with it.'

Tech Genes

'Technology must be in the Swedish genes', speculates Walker, noting that in 1900 Stockholm had more telephones than Berlin or London. Rick Falkvinge says he meets tech-savvy activists as young as thirteen. Schools teach 8-10 year olds how to search and build study projects online. Students take computer drivers licence exams before they reach puberty. And so forth.

Families have even got government subsidies to purchase home computers.

A Sharing Society

Sweden's deep roots in social democracy means everything is 'free': medical care, education through university, daycare services - and of course allemansrätten: the right of public access to anyone's private property at any time for almost any reason - camping, picking berries, and so forth. It's part of the Swedish constitution and is supported by the environmental code. And there's a new movement to establish allemansrätten for intellectual property already underway.

File sharing fits right in.

See Also
The Independent: Why Sweden Rules the Web

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