Beyond the Piazzas: Internet access in Italy on the wane


On 2 December, Eurostat, the statistical arm of the European Commission, published data concerning Internet access in the 27 member states.

For the first time in Internet history, a unique case in the European scenario: Italy has seen its percentage of Internet access per households decrease. The percentage of Italian households with Internet access fell from 43 percent, in 2007, to 42 percent in 2008. Contrastingly, in other European countries, Internet reach continues to grow and expand, albeit at difference paces.
This data underlines the existence of a series of issues that still have to be addressed, relating to the digital and cultural divides that plague Italy.

From the digital divide perspective, the problem is mainly that there’s a great difference between north and the south in terms of broadband reach. Many southern regions don’t have broadband connectivity even in large cities.

Digital divide is also present in the north, as many areas are still uncovered by the Internet and wireless access has a ways to come.

This is mainly caused by the situation of monopoly the incumbent phone operator has established. In fact, even if there are many other ISPs besides Telecom Italia, they don’t own the cables. So they can’t decide where and how to invest in infrastructures.

The greatest enemy of a modern Italy, however, are Italians themselves. The cultural divide slows down the whole innovation process far more greatly than the technical problems. Italy is a country that always had a negative attitude towards change. Many popular inventors and geniuses had to leave the country to find fortune elsewhere.

Michael Fitzpatrick couldn’t have found better words to describe the Italian approach in his recent article published in The Guardian. He sarcastically points out that Italians are still engaged in “Face-to-face networking, old-fashioned chat and time to share news and gossip over a game of cards in the shade of a village piazza”.

The media are constantly talking about new technologies and the Internet in particular, as a source of danger to be kept away from our children and our schools. In a recent national TV broadcast, a journalist stated that “Many high school students confessed to used the Internet at least twice a week”, as if using the Internet was something to be ashamed of. Its use should be confessed to with regret.
Teachers, also, often the first to be unable to understand the power of new media and the Internet, have a negative attitude toward technology. Sure, some of our boys and girls are often clever enough to pave their own way through and learn how to use technologies on their own. But they’re placed in an environment that discourages this attitude. The majority of them tend to end up following their parents’ and teachers’ examples. A university student in her 20s was interviewed in front of her university in Milan, where she said the main cause of illiteracy among young people was the intense use of Wikipedia and the Internet in general.

Even for a country of tradition and craftsmanship, understanding the power of new technologies and the Internet is a key to competing in the global market. Small goldsmiths in Tuscany could sell their creations all over the world if the smith knew how to leverage the power of the Internet instead of liaising only with the customers their fathers passed over to them.
From around Milan come the best light artists of the world - as a matter of fact the two lights placed at Ground Zero to cast light in New York’s sky were produced by a company based in Milan - a company that understood how to market and sell their products in a global economy.

Unfortunately, beyond a few “solo Superman” companies, the general attitude that pervades education, businesses, family life and, in general, the Italian lifestyle, is strongly wedded to a misunderstood idea of tradition.

This notion includes doing things as “we always did”. Nothing ever changes.

And the latest Eurostat news release proves just that.

Flickr photos from users Paolo Margari, ILoveButter and Vionaleews, respectively.