Estonia: New Tech in the Old World

Tourists are transported into “the Old World” as they amble down the charming cobblestone streets of Tallinn, Estonia – few suspecting that they’re in the capital of the world’s most technologically sophisticated country. When the Republic of Estonia declared its independence from the USSR, in 1991, citizens were waiting 10 years for a landline phone. So, with independence, the country had to reboot from zero, according to a Fortune feature. The Baltic country’s first Prime Minister, Mart Laar – who was 32 at the time, helped establish the foundation needed to bring the country into the digital age, starting with their youth: by 1998, all schools were online. Today, first graders are taught to program, and by the third grade, some are starting their own digital companies. By 2000, Estonia became the first nation to declare internet access a “basic human right.” Today, their 1.3 million residents enjoy the world’s fastest – and free – broadband, and more startups per capita than any other country.

 

In e-Estonia, a digital signature has “the same legal consequences as a hand-written signature,” and everyone born in the country is provided an 11-digit digital ID at birth – with a digital ID card serving as their definitive proof of identification in secure e-environments. According to Yoshi Noguchi, President and CEO of InterBusiness Corporation, the following are just a few of the services provided over the internet in e-Estonia:

  • e-Business Register, for entrepreneurs to register their new businesses online in minutes
  • e-Court, which allows for the submission of claims online and participation in the proceedings over the web
  • e-Prescriptions, a centralized, paperless system for handling medical prescriptions
  • e-School, so students, teachers, and parents can collaborate in the learning process
  • e-Tax, which enables taxes to be assessed and paid quickly
  • Electronic Health Records, that integrate blockchain-secured data from all providers into a master record for each patient
  • e-Elections, becoming the world’s first nation to hold elections over the Internet in 2005, and
  • Estonia’s e-Residency program, which enables anyone from anywhere to start a company 100% online, and manage it remotely.

 

The Skype effect: In 2003, four Estonian engineers developed the backend for the video chat service, which they sold to eBay two years later for $2.6 billion (Microsoft later paid $8.5B for it). Not only did the four founders become VCs, the U.S. investment community has been avidly funding a slew of e-Estonian startups. One of them, Starship Technologies’ robot, is now rolling along the streets of Washington, DC, London, and Redwood City, making deliveries.

 

Cyberproof: In 2007, their Russian neighbor tried to cripple the country through weeks-long massive cyberattacks against Estonia’s parliament, banks, telcos, ministries, and media. In response, the following year, e-Estonia opened the only NATO-accredited cyderdefense center. Recently it signed a deal with Luxembourg to keep backup files of all its vital information on servers in the duchy – making it the first data embassy in the world, and a double guarantee for safekeeping the country’s data and services.

 

While maintaining its Old World charm, Estonia is now illustrating to the world the high-value of its technology infrastructure – still interlaced with its cobblestones.