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Italy hopes to invigorate broadband with €6B investment

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The Italian government has approved a plan to bring the country’s high-speed broadband access into line with European Union targets - with the promise of €6 billion in public funds to upgrade infrastructure.

"We are creating a plan to give our country the digital infrastructure, the digital highways like any other European country," said Italian Minister of Economic Development, Federica Guidi.

Italy is falling behind on digital development, especially in terms of the connectivity targets expected by the European Commission in its Digital Agenda for Europe. The commission has set Europe-wide targets for broadband speed by 2020, which require download rates at 30Mb/s for everyone and at least 50 per cent of households subscribing to internet connections above 100 Mb/s.

Currently Italy is ranked last out of the 28 EU member states for ultra-fast broadband coverage. Only 21 per cent of households have access to connections at 100Mb/s or more compared to a European average of 66 per cent. The ‘Strategia Italiana per la Banda Ultralarga’ aims to rectify the situation.

The strategy prescribes measures to make it easier to roll out new networks, by reducing the administrative burden and establishing a register of ducts and overhead routes to optimise the use of existing infrastructure. Public funds will be used to provide incentives for operators to invest in ‘marginal’ areas, and for public authorities to build networks in areas of market failure.

The Italian government also wants to encourage consumers to move towards higher-speed connections, by setting up a voucher scheme for migration to fibre-based broadband, and insisting on price parity where fibre-based connections have been made using public funds, so that customers pay no more for their fibre-optic broadband than they are currently paying for their copper-based connection.

The strategy falls short of mandating a migration towards fibre-to-the-home (FTTH), however. Instead it adopts a technology neutral position.

Up to €6 billion of investment has been identified, coming mainly from the European Structural and Cohesion Funds. The Italian government says further funds for broadband could be released by the ‘Juncker Plan’, the European Commission president's €315 billion flagship policy for investment in strategic infrastructure.

However, upgrading the nation’s broadband infrastructure will take a lot more money than is available from government coffers, which is why the Italian government hopes the public funding will be matched by private investment.

If everything goes according to plan, 100Mb/s coverage could reach up to 85 per cent of Italian households by 2020 while the remaining 15 per cent of households should expect to receive 30Mb/s – going beyond the Digital Agenda targets.

The news follows the recent announcement by Telecom Italia to invest €10 billion in Italy over the next three years, which includes €2.9 billion for the development of fibre-based broadband. Out of this amount, only €500 million is earmarked for FTTH technology. The rest will be directed towards fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) deployments, which do not require fibre as close to the customer premises, but also offer slower speeds than FTTH.

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