Researcher who mapped the Danish Internet: “A real strategy must be laid out”

“We should not first react after young women have had a bad experience using Instagram, but be a little more proactive with legislation that can protect us before things go wrong,” Signe Sophus Lai says. Illustration: Privatfoto

Who owns the Danish Internet? The answer is not straightforward, and if one takes a closer look at who owns the Internet infrastructure that keeps the digital community online, it becomes no less complicated.

However, a pattern emerges—the submarine communications cables to and from Denmark are all privately owned, often by global tech giants such as Google and Facebook. And that makes it incredibly difficult to regulate the Internet for the Danish government. While the UK will in future protect its submarine communications cables from espionage and sabotage, the influence of Danish politicians is stifled by a market that largely regulates itself.

“Historically, our communication channels in Denmark have been strongly rooted in national institutions, regardless of whether it was the press, telecommunications, or the post. This meant that these channels could be regulated quite closely,” Signe Sophus Lai says.

She is an assistant professor at the University of Copenhagen and has together with a colleague tried to map the Danish Internet.

First and foremost, the mapping shows that the infrastructure around the Internet has become extremely decentralized, and this makes it more difficult for the Danish government to regulate when necessary, Signe Sophus Lai assesses.

“The state is in a kind of crisis, because now that infrastructure has been decentralized, it’s harder to regulate. The regulation we see today is very reactionary. Roughly speaking, we only react when things go pear-shaped,” she says.

“We should not first react after young women have had a bad experience using Instagram, but be a little more proactive with legislation that can protect us before things go wrong,” the researcher says.

She also says that it has been quite difficult to piece together the many parts that together paint a perfect picture of Denmark’s Internet.

Various data sources

Some of the data collected by the two researchers has been extracted from various databases, but much of it has been collected manually from telecommunications statistics from authorities in the countries they have studied. They include Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland.

“The mapping we have done is impractical, but it’s necessary. Until we sat down and looked at it, no one had an overview of it. On the other hand, it makes it clear that the market access that Denmark has had to digital infrastructure since the 1990s is difficult to slow down again,” Signe Sophus Lai says.

She says that back in the 1990s—before the decentralization of the Danish Internet—there was a strong relationship between the politicians who regulated the market, Danes, and the companies that operated and developed the infrastructure.

“My research suggests that it would be better to return to the slightly more regulated models so that we don’t first politically intervene when there is a shitstorm or a crisis. A real strategy must be laid out,” says Signe Sophus Lai, and points to some of our Nordic countries as sources of inspiration.

“In Norway, the infrastructure has been kept in Norwegian hands to a greater extent, among other things through a strong Telenor. It also means that Norwegians have significantly more expensive mobile and fixed Internet. So there are definitely advantages to the Danish approach,” Signe Sophus Lai points out.

Signe Sophus Lai is going to talk about her results at the IT security expo V2 Security at Øksnehallen in Copenhagen 4–5 May 2022.