Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Estonian Internet road-show takes off

The efforts of a tiny Estonian company called Tiigrituur which helps Estonians of all ages and backgrounds profit from the new possibilities brought to them by the Internet, has been recognised by the judges of the 1999 Global Bangemann Challenge Awards.

By unanimous decision...
The efforts of a tiny Estonian company called Tiigrituur which helps Estonians of all ages and backgrounds profit from the new possibilities brought to them by the Internet, has been recognised by the judges of the 1999 Global Bangemann Challenge Awards.

By unanimous decision, Tiigrituur, or Tiger Tour in English, was proclaimed the winner of the 'Equal Access to Networking' category at a ceremony in Stockholm earlier this year. However the Tiger Tour budget is so small that the World Bank had to buy the organisers' ferry tickets to allow them to collect their award.

Tiger Tour is a fleet of trucks that take to the road once a year, providing free Internet access and training to all who climb aboard. Set up by the Tiger Leap Foundation whose purpose is to bring modern information and communication technology into the Estonian education system, the Tiger Tour objective is to help people taking their first steps with computers and raise the general level of IT awareness in Estonia.

General Manager of the Tiger Leap Foundation, Enel Magi said: 'Winning the Bangemann Challenge was very important to us because it gives us the possibility to show to the world what a small country like Estonia is doing. It also helps us to continue providing this service by attracting larger and richer firms to donate money'. At present the tiny Tiger Tour budget is provided by donations from private organisations.

The tour began as a one-day event in the Old City Square in Estonia's capital Tallinn, when 100 computers were set up for public use while lecturers provided support and showed people how to use them. Such was its popularity that it grew into an eight-day road show the following year, accompanied by 30 IT professionals and 400 volunteers.

Tiger Tour Project Manager Linnar Viik said: 'We wanted to bring people closer to information technology - to show them how to use it and teach them not to be afraid.

'I hope we have changed their ideas and opened the black box of technology for many people for whom information technology will play an important part in their lives. We don't want to say everybody must use the Internet. We just want to bring an additional dimension to the opportunities in their lives.'

In 1998 the Tiger Tour proudly lived up to its motto: 'The Internet connects people, not computers'. Almost all of the 250,000 people who boarded the tour bus opened a free e-mail account on Tiger Tour's public mail server, connecting Estonians to other people in different parts of their country and beyond. Mr Viik calculated there were more than 10,000 new e-mail users - 10% of all current e-mail users in Estonia - as a result of the 1998 tour, and more than 5,000 people started Internet banking.

The event was voted the 1998 public event of Estonia, and different regions began demanding that they get a visit. The 1999 Tiger Tour visited eight cities, six of them new ones, with a new motto - 'the Internet enables'. Participants were shown what is available over the Internet via new media tools and applications. The whole country became involved as the tour produced a live Internet broadcast for Estonian television, and laid out a page in a national newspaper every day.

In each city the tour visited, around 50 local schoolchildren lent their services, setting up the tents and equipment and providing advice where necessary. This year there were four additional volunteers who pitched up on day one. Mr Viik said: 'They just turned up and for eight days they gave up their normal lives to hitch-hike around the country with us. To think that four people wanted to do this really meant something to all of us.'

Estonia may be a small country, but it has embraced the Internet revolution wholeheartedly, with more than 30,000 Internet-connected servers, providing users with services from live parliamentary broadcasts to all banking services. This is not a sudden break-though, but the result of nationally targeted programs such as the Tiger Tour. In addition there are over 70 public access points, marked with an @, which provide free Internet access for those without computers.

Ulla Skidden, project manager of the Global Bangemann Challenge, said the Tiger Tour project was more than a free Internet service. In spreading their message, Tiger Tour organisers met with local politicians and decision-makers while touring Estonia. 'They try to make them realise that there is no option. They have to support information technology if Estonia is to grow,' she said.

'The Tiigrituur road show is a nice example of the spirit you find in small countries like Estonia that are going from extreme poverty to becoming a rather sophisticated country. There is a tremendous will to move quickly. To achieve this the projects try and make the decision-makers realise they cannot move on without information technology.

'There was no difference of opinion between the judges. They chose Tiigrituur because it is a very efficient project which is running on very little money and providing a great service.'

The Global Bangemann Challenge was set up in 1997 to provide recognition to IT projects that help people reach new levels of prosperity, health and democracy. It is the successor to the European project, the Bangemann Challenge inspired by EU Commissioner Martin Bangemann, following the 1994 Bangemann Report, 'Europe and the Global Information Society' - a collection of guidelines for Europe as it entered the Information Society. Next year it will become known as the Stockholm Challenge in order to permanently establish the award as an IT challenge, and will open for entries on 1 October 1999.
Follow us on: RSS Facebook Twitter YouTube Managed by the EU Publications Office Top