Crossing the digital divide

In the old days it was easy to tell the “haves” from the “have nots”. The former used their bathtubs as part of their weekly grooming rituals, while the latter kept the coal in theirs. So they say. These days the goalposts have moved and we now measure ourselves in more sophisticated ways, one of the most notable of which is whether or not we have access to fast internet.

Although Italians have a love of technology, various factors conspire to deprive a large minority of any access to it. A combination of geography, cash and politics mean that fast internet is mainly confined to the coastal strips and the large towns. The phrase “digital divide” is a notable English import into the language and refers to the gap between those fortunate enough to have access and the rest who don’t.

Soon after moving to Torri it became apparent that although we were only 8km from Ventimiglia it might as well have been the back side of the Moon. No terrestial television, no mains gas and no internet. Even the much-trumpeted 3G mobile phone services don’t reach here, so we languish in medieval simplicity. Small wonder that (as noted previously in these pages) the birth rate here is the highest in the entire country.

If you’ve had broadband for any time you’ve probably forgotten the life-changing effect of its arrival. If you doubt that, just try living for a year or so without it. It’s like having a limb removed, except there’s the constant promise that one day you’ll get it back again, if you don’t die of old age first.

From time to time the mobile phone rings with an invitation to change operator or take up any one of a number of tantalising offers. I assume – unfortunately my language skills haven’t improved to the point I can make much sense of them. I’ve just about developed enough skill to say I’m not interested, the alternative being to simply put the phone down, which is impolite.

So when the phone ran a couple of weeks ago and I was treated to the usual breathless “offer you can’t refuse” spiel I was on the point of delivering my polished refusal when the phrase “Telecom Italia” floated past my consciousness, closely followed by “ADSL”. “Now”, I thought, “Telecom Italia doesn’t make junk calls; it pays other companies to do it”. To gain time I politely pointed out that ADSL wasn’t available here so there was no point pursuing the matter. The caller was most insistent and a germ of hope started to develop in my mind. I passed the phone to Anna, whose telephone skills are far more advanced, and listened with growing incredulity as it gradually became apparent that the caller was OFFERING the service, to be available in the next few days. Once the call finished I immediately went online and discovered that my telephone number was indeed one capable of receiving the service. I put in a request immediately, then we dismissed the whole thing as being simply too good to be true and obviously not likely to happen any time in the foreseeable future.

Eight days passed then this text message arrived on my mobile:


For those not proficient with the language it’s thanking me for choosing Alice, which is now activated on my phone line. Alice is the name of the Internet service run by Telecom Italia.

The following morning we went out early to the local electronics store, bought an ADSL modem with wireless then rushed back home and connected it up. Nothing happened. Not an electronic sausage. There followed two or three days of phone calls to Telecom Italia to report the brand-new connection as a non-working fraud. The trouble is there’s rarely anyone you can talk to who is in any way knowledgable; they promised calls from the “technico” but it took over a day for this to happen, a day during which we were convinced it was all too much trouble dealing with a couple of annoying and stupid foreigners. It seems there were actually two faults; the first one in our line, which wasn’t actually delivering the ADSL signals, and the other somewhere else; maybe in their system, maybe in our equipment and maybe just in our own ignorant incompetence. The trouble is, you buy a piece of equipment these days and it either works or it doesn’t. If it does, fine, but if not there’s not a scrap of advice available on how to diagnose the problem. The settings are all carefully hidden so as to prevent us ignorant oiks getting our grubby paws on them and messing them up.

Then after three days of this I wearily powered down and up the modem for the umpteenth time and there it was, working. “Nah, nah, ni nah, nah” it was saying; “I could have done this all along but I wanted to have some fun first”.

So here we are; Torri the Internet Village, and my doubts about Telecom Italia were both unworthy and groundless. I believe we were actually the first to be connected but as the word gets around there are plenty of others who’ll want to take it up. Now all we need is to be connected to the mains gas pipe that was laid last year and then apparently forgotten.

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