Latvia whizzes in as Wi-Fi wonderland
Rahvusvahelised uudised 26 Apr 2013  EWR
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Nirvana Bhatia, Net Prophet/Transitions Online
Estonians often boast that free wireless Internet access is available throughout their country — even in remote forests and along deserted beaches. And now neighboring Latvia will be able to tout the same thing.

Telecommunications giant Lattlecom established 2,000 free Wi-Fi hotspots across Latvia in April, which grant users an hour of Internet access interrupted by two 15-second advertisements, The Baltic Times reports. (Lattlecom subscribers will not have to endure the commercials, which will eventually feature third-party products to help finance the project). Considering there are no data limits during these sessions and that the stable connectivity speeds are better than mobile internet for downloading photographs, films, and other large files, it’s a beneficial service even in the smartphone age.

Lattlecom issued a public poll to determine the most desired sites for free internet consumption, initially intending to install just 100-200 Wi-Fi points in any area that received more than 100 local votes. When nearly 25 times the number of expected people participated in the survey, the company maintained their commitment and met the burgeoning demand for hotspots.

Although there isn’t a hotspot on Cape Kolka just yet, the Wi-Fi zones do reflect the priorities determined by the public, with the bulk of them in eating places, parks and outdoor recreation areas, and healthcare institutions. Motivated by the enthusiastic response, Lattlecom CEO Juris Gulbis anticipates adding to the network in the near future, particularly by offering the free service on public transportation as well.

This isn’t the first time Lattlecom, which is partly owned by the Latvian government, has supported universal Internet access. In 2008, they famously launched the “Connect, Latvia!” program to teach senior citizens how to use computers and to surf the web in an effort to include everyone in the digital revolution.

As Gulbis noted in a recent statement, Latvians, who enjoy the fourth-fastest Internet speed in the world according to Bloomberg, associate free Wi-Fi with “unlimited freedom.” In fact, Lattlecom’s public poll indicated that one in every five Latvian citizens would be willing to give up something like alcohol or sweets in exchange for free Wi-Fi, while one in every 10 believed free Internet access was more important than going to the movies or eating out.

With that attitude, hiking in the Latvian woods will never be the same.*

*Though this author highly advocates communing with nature devoid of any technological devices, she has also spent one fairly alarming evening lost in a Latvian forest, desperately wishing for Google Maps.

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