“We have to go back to living in our villages.” The mayor of Piegaro, 35 kilometres from Perugia, quotes his famous regional compatriot Brunello Cucinelli to explain how important the arrival of ultrafast broadband is to the village. In the nearby village of Solomeo, near Lake Trasimeno, Cucinelli, who is known as the king of Cashmere wool, has built a fashion house that is known throughout the world.
“I hope the Open Fiber project will reverse the trend affecting small towns and villages like Piegaro, which embody the country’s reality, beauty and wealth, especially the heritage of central Italy, Umbria, Tuscany and Marche,” says Roberto Ferricelli, who four years ago became mayor of Piegaro, a municipality of fewer than 4,000 people spread over an area of over 92 square kilometres, lying partly in the valley of the River Nestore and partly in the hills where olives, vines and cereals are cultivated.
Six months for the new network
Installation of Piegaro’s Open Fiber system began in late August. “The new network will stretch for 30 kilometres, eight of which will be overhead cables, 15 will take advantage of the existing infrastructure and seven will be laid in mini-trenches using no-dig technology which is remote controlled, so it’s even less invasive,” explains Vito Magliaro, Open Fiber Regional Manager for Umbria and Marche.
Around 20 people will work on the site for 6-7 months, including designers and digging and laying teams. On completion the area will be connected via ultrafast broadband technology providing speeds of up to 1 gigabyte per second in FTTH (Fiber to the home) mode – this means the fibre enters homes and offices directly, starting with schools and hospitals, and it will connect Piegaro to the future, changing the life of the village and providing a means to join the modern world.
“To keep people here, especially young families, we have to provide certain essential services,” says the mayor. “Nowadays the ultrafast network is one of these. Take home banking, for example, or interactions with local government and tourism.”
From glass to fibre
The arrival of fibre optic technology represents a new chapter in a story that is almost a thousand years old. Everything in Piegaro relates to glass, and optical fibre is a slender thread of glass with the diameter of a human hair. The Touring Club guidebook says the village has been “Famous for glassmaking since mediaeval times.” In the 14th century the local artisans produced glass and mosaic tiles for the splendid Orvieto Cathedral.
This tradition is now kept alive by the Vetreria Cooperativa Piegarese. Founded in the 1960s, it employs 250 people, and was responsible for introducing industrial production. The sector held firm even during the recent economic crisis, which nonetheless left its mark on the area: 300 jobs were lost in the valley, predominantly in the metalworking industry. The village’s last bank branch closed not long ago, the post office has cut its opening hours and “For Sale” signs have begun to appear in front of the houses in the historic village.
“It’s a vicious circle. We have to turn things around. We’ve approved a plan to simplify renting to new residents so that the second homes of people who’ve emigrated to the city don’t remain empty,” says the mayor, “But we also have to improve services and the ultrafast broadband can help us.”
“The arrival of fibre optic cable could be a great opportunity,” adds the mayor, who also foresees new possibilities for the 400 pupils at the three schools (nursery, primary and middle) in the area. “We’re renovating them completely, making them energy efficient and in full compliance with anti-seismic regulations.” The ultrafast broadband will complete the picture.
Tourism shifts up a gear
Tourism is one sector with great growth potential; B&Bs, holiday homes and agri-tourism in the area can already offer 700 beds, and almost all of them are occupied from June to September. The important thing is to link up to nearby towns, little gems such as Città della Pieve. This is the thinking behind the creation of “I sentieri del Perugino” (The Trails of Perugino), which proposes art itineraries to follow by bike or on foot.
Tourists come here from all over the world. Holiday homes are in great demand from American and British visitors, as many come here for the Festival of Glass.
“This summer, though, we were contacted by two Israeli families with children who wanted to take part in our creative glass workshops,” says the museum’s tourist guide Bianca Iaccarino, for whom ultrafast broadband is a dream come true. “Finally, we’ll have no more problems projecting YouTube videos,” she says with a smile.
Agronomy graduate Clelia Cini, 33, and her brother Riccardo, an oenologist, created the Casa dei Cini estate here, producing mainly wine and olive oil but also aglione (a kind of giant garlic) and hemp. For her, the arrival of the fibre optic network is excellent news “The ultrafast broadband now plays a crucial role in persuading young people to stay in the rural areas. We’ve had to put a satellite dish on the roof and point it at a mountain to have even the weakest Internet connection.”
Piegaro is also a symbol. The Open Fiber plan was created to bridge the divide between city and countryside, connected and white areas – the so-called “market failures” where no private telecommunications providers want to invest. The great Open Fiber project will render the idea of a two-speed Italy obsolete by launching initiatives throughout the country, from the Alps to Sicily with the aim of ensuring that nobody is left behind in Piegaro and the many municipalities just like it across Italy, places that for centuries have represented Italian excellence to the world. Small is still beautiful, especially when connected.