SHARE
COPY LINK

OPINION & ANALYSIS

OPINION: Italy has a big chance to improve internet speeds – but will it take it?

Italy is planning major improvements to internet access nationwide using money from the European recovery fund. Silvia Marchetti looks at the country's connectivity problem and asks how likely things really are to change.

OPINION: Italy has a big chance to improve internet speeds - but will it take it?
Is your Italian wifi connection fast enough for FaceTime? Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

I live in Rome’s countryside and each time I need to send heavy files, like photos or videos, I need to step out of my office, walk to the garden and climb into my car. I don’t know why but my parking lot is the best, fastest internet connection point on my entire property. 

Still, the last time I tried uploading a short clip to my Facebook profile it took five hours. 

And when it rains or it’s windy, not even simple emails without attachments go through. Each time I cross my fingers, hoping to hear that pleasant ‘swoosh’ sound of sent emails only to find them stuck in my outbox. My home wifi is even worse than my mobile coverage, so I often activate the personal hotspot on my phone to transfer the connection to my PC. 

READ ALSO: Digital divide: The parts of Italy still waiting for fast wifi

Even though I don’t live in Rome’s historical center it is still unacceptable that in many areas of the province around the Eternal City, Italy’s capital, the connection signal is hooked on 2G, 3G and, in the worst case scenarios, ancient GPRS. 

The same applies to other parts of Italy, mainly the rural areas and small towns where investments in digital infrastructure are lower than in the main cities. And it’s not just because of low population density or natural barriers like the sea and mountains.

In fact, there are several surprising exceptions. I was once holidaying on a tiny isle off Sicily’s coast and managed to send 2GB of high-resolution photos in just two minutes. At home it would have taken me 30-45 minutes.

Foreigners living in Italy know about these issues and in the past have ranked the country as ‘worst’ in Europe when it comes to internet connectivity.

Italy needs to invest in ultra-fast internet connections, quickly. And it now has a historical chance to do so.

The European Union’s €200 billion in pandemic recovery aid is a major one-off opportunity to extend both high-speed wifi and 5G mobile coverage to all regions in a uniform way, so as to finally bridge the digital gap between cities and villages. 

This will also allow people to keep working remotely once the pandemic is over.

Photo: ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP

But Italy faces a huge task. Through the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) set-up by Europe to tackle the economic impact of Covid-19 in member states over the next six years, Italy gets roughly €69 billion in grants and €123 billion in loans to make key investments.

This means Italy will be the greatest beneficiary among its peers out of a total of more than EUR 750 billion EU-wide.

READ ALSO: 

In order to apply for the funds, Italy’s government submitted plans to Brussels detailing how it will use the money. One key mission is the launch of a ‘digital revolution’ which will impact businesses, state offices, schools and the tourism sector. 

The government’s goal is to have all residents online by 2026 and to bring ultra-fast broadband to eight million families and firms across the country. 

But there are so many challenges along the way – mainly whether Italy will be able to effectively use the earmarked funds by 2026. If it fails to do so, the money will no longer be available.

Unfortunately this has already happened in the past: several times, Italy has had to hand back a large chunk of the EU’s cohesion funds because it failed to meet investment deadlines. For instance, in 2015 Italy spent just 1% of the EU resources allocated.

This time though, things might be different. 

A centralized government committee has been created to supervise the correct and timely use of European pandemic aid, liaising with ministries and local bodies. 

However, it is inevitable that there could be delays in upgrading digital infrastructures due to Italy’s inbuilt weaknesses.

Excessive bureaucracy weighs on Italy’s growth potential. Sluggish public tender procedures used to select the firms for new projects must be accelerated and red tape cut to aid investments.

Another key challenge will be extending and boosting ultra-fast internet connections in rural, isolated locations and tiny villages, mainly in the south, where many people are still using GPRS signals and can’t even make a video call. 

In Italy’s poorest region, Calabria, approximately 60% of families have access to ultra-fast internet compared to 80% in Lombardy.

In such areas digital infrastructure like simple antennas are totally missing, so you need to build these first in order to transmit a fast signal. Bridging the digital gap between the north and south of Italy will be crucial.

READ ALSO: Why Italy is struggling to launch its planned 5G network

Many mobile phones will also need to be updated, and the state should think of some sort of voucher scheme to support low-income families in purchasing a new handset fit to connect to 5G, which is expected to cover all of Italy. Currently, even if you have a cool phone that you just recently bought but only works on 4G and does not support 5G, in future you’ll have to change it. 

A few friends of mine subscribed a 5G connection on their mobiles only to find out later that their phone wasn’t ‘qualified’ and they then had to ask their provider for a refund.

But I want to be optimistic. I think the digital scenario will improve, perhaps not over the next two years but in the long run. 

By 2026, Italy’s residents should be able to see the impact of European aid in their households. 

And hopefully I might not need to climb into my car and wiggle my phone in the air to capture the 4G signal. I’ll be finally connected via 5G and the ‘swoosh’ sound of my sent emails will be the new normal.

Member comments

  1. I recommend avoiding TIM at all costs and using a satellite based system. I use Fidoka at their basic level and manage Zoom calls to Belarus regularly without any problems. Good company to deal with in my area; we had an outage for less than 24 hours and recived an apologetic email the next day with a complimentary 7 days usage.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

DISCOVER ITALY

OPINION: Is Italy’s west or east coast the best place for a holiday?

Choosing which coast to visit in Italy can be a tough call, particularly if you’re planning to spend most of the time sunbathing and swimming. Reporter Silvia Marchetti shares her insights on the pros and cons of both.

OPINION: Is Italy’s west or east coast the best place for a holiday?

The Tyrrhenian west coast and the Adriatic east one are very different, and each come with their pros and cons.

In my view the Tyrrhenian side of the boot wins, because even though it tends to be more crowded due to the many art cities located along it, its beaches have fewer facilities for families and the shores are more ragged, with rocks and cliffs ideal for solo and adventurous young people. 

The Amalfi coast’s picturesque fishermen villages, or Liguria’s Cinque Terre, feature tiny pebble stone bays cut between high cliffs with little space for sun umbrellas and beds.

The Adriatic, on the other hand, is a mass destination for foreign sunbathers, very popular especially among German and Russian tourists. The east coast has Italy’s widest and flattest sandy beaches, which make it an ideal spot for families – but also very crowded. 

READ ALSO: Private lidos take up more than 40 percent of Italian beaches: report

The Adriatic shore is one long line of adjacent beach facilities that run for kilometres from the northern Friuli-Venezia Giulia region down south to Puglia. 

Beaches in the seaside towns of Rimini and Riccione, located along the chaotic Riviera Romagnola renowned also for its wild nightlife, feature up to 50 rows of sun beds and umbrellas in summer.

More sunbeds than sand… Some parts of Italy are heavily built-up with an abundance of services. (Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP)

Beach facilities there resemble open-air condominiums where there are children’s playgrounds, restaurants, sleeping areas, dance floors and changing rooms for clients.

One good thing, though, is the constant presence of bay watchers and lifeguards at each facility, who are present throughout all eastern coastal regions and very helpful if you don’t constantly want to look after the kids. Beach resorts often come with big seaside multi-floor hotel buildings that look like city offices. 

To escape the crowds on the Adriatic coast you need to pick niche, rocky spots with very few beaches such as the Conero Hill in the Marche region and the Gargano promontory in Puglia.

While the Adriatic coast’s wide and easily accessible beaches are great for children and older people, the sea is not always clear and there are just a few top scuba diving and snorkelling spots, such as the beautiful Tremiti islands.

The Tyrrhenian sea, which is deeper than the Adriatic, is packed with diving sites: Ustica island in Sicily and Ventotene isle in Latium are Italy’s top diving meccas brimming with barracudas and giant groupers.

Tyrrhenian waters are cleaner too: in 2021, its shores won more bandiera blu (Blue flag) awards for high water quality standards than Adriatic beaches.

READ ALSO: Where to find even more of Italy’s best beaches

There are also more protected marine reserves along the west coast, which guarantees a pristine environment, and more free beaches without facilities and lifeguards. While this ‘wild’ aspect may be attractive to many, it could make some beaches not suitable for families with small kids. 

Family friendly beaches tend to draw in more crowds. (Photo by ludovic MARIN / AFP)

On the other hand, given its relatively shallow waters, the Adriatic is blessed with reasonable stocks of fish, so if you long for fishing expeditions it’s the perfect destination. 

However the real plus point of the east coast is its strategic location facing other Mediterranean countries and allowing tourists, particularly from the US, to expand their holidays and exploit Italy as the door to the ‘Old Continent’. From the ports of Bari and Ancona, ferry boats depart to Greece, Slovenia, Croatia and Albania.

The winning asset of the Tyrrhenian, other than its translucent waters and baby powder beaches, is the huge artistic heritage it offers visitors. The west coast boasts the top must-see Italian cities usually picked by global tourists (Rome, Naples, Florence) which all lie, or are close to the sea – except for Venice (the gem of the Adriatic).

READ ALSO:

The cultural appeal of the west side makes the central national highway, the A1 – otherwise known as Autostrada del Sole – a very trafficky infrastructure. 

There are also mesmerising fishermen villages with a mythological vibe along the Tyrrhenian coast, such as Gaeta and Sperlonga, where it is said Odysseus, the legendary Greek king, landed during his wanderings.

Plus, most of Italy’s UNESCO heritage-listed sites are located along or near the west shore. For instance, the archaeological excavations of Pompeii are among the top tourist hotspots in Italy.

READ ALSO: Life in Italy in 2022: 10 things to add to your bucket list

Generally speaking, the appeal of popular places along the west coast inevitably translates into more expensive hotels and travelling costs but it depends on the specific location. 

A photo shows a general view of the archaeological site of Pompeii, near Naples. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

The major west coast lure for sea dogs, sailing amateurs and fans of the tan is that nearly all Italian islands are located in the Tyrrhenian sea and reachable from the mainland.

The two island regions of Sardinia and Sicily are accessible by ferry boat from Naples and Civitavecchia, while the Tuscan archipelago, the Pontine islands and Sicily’s dozens of ‘satellites’ such as the Aeolian, Egadi and Pelagie isles are tropical paradises just a stone’s throw from the cultural highlights.

READ ALSO: Ten percent of the world’s best beaches are in Italy

Even though both coasts are stunning and are worth exploring, personally, I’d chose the Tyrrhenian over the Adriatic any day, and not just because I’m a Roman who lives in Rome. 

It has a diversified offer of artistic sites and beaches, inlets and cliffs that allow you to savour the most of Italy in just a few days. 

The last time I rented my beach home south of Rome to a French couple, I thought they’d laze all day under the sultry sun. Instead they drove across half of Italy in 14 day trips, visiting Florence, Naples, Sorrento and Calabria. 

SHOW COMMENTS