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With €61m for fibre and mobile, will Sicily finally get broadband to be proud of?

A wave of investment is headed towards the Italian island – but not everyone's convinced it will be a silver bullet.
Written by Raffaele Mastrolonardo, Contributor

The Italian region of Sicily has many virtues, from its cuisine to its arts and landscapes. But, when it comes to internet connectivity, the situation is not quite so rosy.  A meagre 49 percent of households in the region have broadband access, for example: according to the EC's stats service, only four out of Italy's 20 regions fare worse.

However, the situation might be about to change in the near future, following a deal between two major telecoms companies and the Italian government which looks set to improve the quality of local networks, paving the way for more advanced services and an increase in take-up. 

Telecom Italia, Italtel and Invitalia, a government agency whose goal is to attract investments in the country, recently signed a so called 'development agreement' that will deliver €61m of funding to extend fixed and mobile broadband capacity in Sicily — a shift which will be achieved, according to Telecom Italia, chiefly by replacing copper with fibre.

The incumbent will contribute €41m to the project, while Italtel's investment will amount to €20m, €18m of which will be used to develop an IP multimedia subsystem service delivery platform to underpin the provision of video, voice and internet services in the region. The remaining €2m will be used to diversify the production of the Carini Italtel's premises in Palermo, allowing the facility to also work on software and engineering projects.

In addition, Invitalia will provide €18m of support using funds from the Ministry of Economic Development. Development agreements such as the one signed in this case are special forms of private and public partnership aimed at boosting the local industrial, tourism and commercial sectors in underdeveloped areas of the country.

The network extension should be completed by the first half of 2014 and will reach each of Sicily's nine provinces, covering 30 percent of the region's population, Telecom Italia told ZDNet.

A national strategy?

A boost in the quality of fixed and mobile broadband would be appreciated not only by the five million Sicilians but in the country as a whole, where broadband can often be sub-par.

As a report by telecoms consultancy Point Topic showed, in 2012 Italy was last in Europe when it came to next-generation broadband coverage: only 14 percent of households were able to subscribe to a 30Mbps or above connection versus a EU27 average of 53.7 percent. Consequently, any improvement in broadband speeds would be very welcome.

"The development agreement is a very good sign but the problems with Italy broadband are far bigger and you don't get rid of them right away," Francesco Sacco, who teaches at the Bocconi University in Milan, told ZDNet.

These problems, according to Sacco, stem from two factors: the lack of a broadband vision by the various governments that have led the country in the last 15 years and Telecom Italia's economic woes, which have made it difficult for the company to invest in network upgrades.

An upcoming report by Francesco Caio, the man in charge of implementing Italy's digital agenda reforms should soon shed some light on the issues and offer potential remedies.

"The report is due by the end of the year and should cover which policies are needed to overcome Italy's broadband rollout delays," said Sacco, who is among the 12 people (the 'apostles', as they are jokingly known) that form Caio's taskforce.

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