The Italian village that gives a glimpse into life before the web | Italia

aIn a café that doubles as a newsagent in Galliano di Mugello, a small medieval village in Tuscany, there are no sounds from cell phones, people are aimlessly surfing the internet or uploading their cappuccinos to Instagram. Instead, customers read the newspaper – their main source of information about the outside world – or talk to each other.

Surrounded by quintessential Tuscan cypresses and rolling hills, Galliano di Mugello will be a haven for those who want a digital detox. But the lack of mobile phone coverage is a less endearing whim for the 1,300 or so residents, who are beginning to rise up against the inability to make a call, send a text or search for something on Google on their mobile devices.

“Look at this,” Daniela Suggili said, pointing to the signal strength symbol on her screen. “No bars. It’s an absolute nuisance.”

The village of Galliano di Mugello in Italy. Photo: Barberino di Mugello municipality

Galliano di Mugello has become a symbol of Italy’s digital divide after a report by the Ministry of Innovation and AGCOM, the communications watchdog, ranked it highly among the 204 regions in Italy classified in the report as “a very white region” due to the lack of mobile phones. Incomplete phone and internet coverage. Although people can access the Internet at home via ADSL or through recent fiber broadband access, the connection often drops, especially when the weather is bad. Almost everyone owns a mobile phone too, but they can’t use it when they are out and about in the small village.

It even caught the attention of Netflix, which earlier this year used the hamlet in a trailer for the Italian promotion of The Mitchells vs the Machines, a comedy about a goofy family who tackles a robot apocalypse as technology takes over the world.

“In Galliano di Mugello, robots will never rebel,” was the slogan of the Mitchells vs the Machines trailer, which stars some of its residents and goes on to describe the hamlet as a place without the burden of “noise, traffic, long lines…or problems.” technology”.

While the sights and magic of Galliano di Mugello, which is under the supervision of the municipality of Barberino di Mugello, was promoted, the publicity generated by the trailer also provided the perfect opportunity for the mayor, Giampiero Mongatti, to relive his battle for Hamlet online. Bridging the digital divide is a top priority for Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government, with a large proportion of the more than 200 billion euros (£170 billion) Italy receives from the European Union’s Post-Coronavirus Recovery Fund due to be spent on digitization.

“Mobile companies are not investing in Galliano because they don’t think it is worth the cost,” Mongatti said. But with the European Recovery Fund money, the government must now pay them to invest. It is true that there is a strong sense of community in Galliano and you never see people on the street staring at their phones. All this is very nice, but at the same time citizens want to be connected and should not be treated as second-class. ”

Mongatti, whose office is located with the rest of the more connected Barberino town hall, argued that mobile phone coverage is now a basic necessity, particularly in the event of an emergency.

In December 2019, when a strong earthquake hit the area, he was unable to communicate safety measures to people in Galliano.

“We sent a series of messages on social media, but it was just that everyone was out on the streets and so they couldn’t read the messages,” he said. “I had to send police patrols to tell people what to do.”

Marica Battisti, who runs an agricultural tourism farm, was left in a frightening situation in January after two thieves entered the building during the night. She was not able to go down to the basement to use the land line to call the police, as the robbers were there. So she went out onto the balcony, and after waving her cell phone for a while, she was able to get enough signal to make the call.

“It was a nightmare,” she said, “even the internet wasn’t working.” “It’s necessary now for security – how are we supposed to call the police or an ambulance if something happens?”

Poor internet connection also proved to be a problem when students had to follow lessons online at home during the coronavirus lockdowns, with some forced to take their devices to a restaurant parking lot on a nearby hill, where a signal can sometimes be found.

Daniela Sugli is reading a newspaper with two of her colleagues, who live in Galliano de Mugello.
Daniela Sugli is reading a newspaper with two of her colleagues, who live in Galliano de Mugello. Photograph: Angela Giuffrida/The Guardian

“We need the internet for everything nowadays, even to book our Covid-19 vaccines,” Sugili said. “Although I am retired, so the problems do not affect me much… but what about the people who need them to work or study?”

Sugili tried to get the Guardian in touch with a young resident for an interview, and rushed to the butchers, owned by Andrea Guasti, to ask them to borrow his land line.

“I can’t cross,” Sugili said. “Maybe it doesn’t have reception – do you see the problems it causes?”

Guasti, one of the stars of the Netflix trailer, is used to people asking to borrow his phone. “I have a land line here and at home, as well as a mobile phone, which makes everything very expensive,” he said.

Mongatti said that the thing that distinguishes Galliano from other towns or villages where there is no Internet access or is too precarious is its large population. It’s also not far – Galliano is located near the Apennine Mountains and only an hour from Florence. The area is popular with hikers and was even featured in a video for Madonna’s song, Turn Up the Radio.

But Mongatti refuses to promote it as a vacation destination for those seeking a detox.

“When I went to the beach for 15 days in the summer, I turned off my phone,” he said. “But real freedom is not about not having a signal, it is about being able to choose when to stop working. And we need to give the citizens of Galliano that choice.”

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