Sweden has made a name for itself in the startup and tech industry in recent years, frequently topping polls on 'fastest internet', broadband development or the tech skills of its citizens.
But while you never see a Stockholmer without their smartphone on the metro, a new study by the Swedish Local Fibre Alliance (Svenska stadsnätsföreningen, a trade group for network owners engaged in developing broadband infrastructure) suggests that a million people in Sweden feel 'digitally excluded'.
The study identifies five factors that cause digital exclusion, which in effect causes inequality: broadband access, education, motivation, user ability and the access to for example a computer or tablet.
“The more than one million Swedes who are digitally excluded need more contact with society functions than the average. Yet there is no active or coordinated work to enhance their digital skills, and that affects the individuals as well as society,” said the Swedish Local Fibre Alliance's CEO Mikael Ek.
The majority on that side of the digital divide are the elderly, people born outside Europe or low-income groups of society. The study predicts that the number will rise in the coming years as more people move to Sweden from less-digitalized countries.
And as more and more society functions are carried out online, it gets increasingly difficult for them to, for example, book doctors' appointments or stay in touch with their children's school.
“The government's IT policy objective is ambitious: Sweden should be best in the world at making use of the opportunities of digitalization. If a large part of the population are excluded from the digital society we will never reach that goal. A joint effort is required by the state, municipalities and authorities,” said Ek.
The Swedish government is expected to put forward a new national broadband strategy and then a digitalization strategy this winter.
The former outlines how to extend the fibre and broadband network and the latter about boosting IT skills, Sweden's digital development minister, Peter Eriksson, told the TT news agency in response to the study.
“We need more education for new arrivals and all other groups in society,” he said.