In summer the largest island in the Tuscan archipelago is a heaven on Earth, a colourful world where the mainland seems far away. In winter, though, it’s a black and white landscape, locked deep in an endless-seeming Chekovian hibernation.
That’s why it will be interesting to see how life on the island will change within 2020 when Elba becomes part of the fiber optic network with an Internet access speed of 1 gig per second.
A future-proof network
Work on the Open Fiber network began on 9 October. Over the next few months 217 kilometres of fiber optic cable will be laid. 84% of the new network will use existing infrastructure (also through aerial laying), which means it will cause far less inconvenience to local residents. “Life on Elba isn’t always easy during wintertime, and adverse weather conditions sometimes make it hard to establish reliable links with the mainland. Fiber optic technology, though, will enable us to overcome these problems, and Elba will open up a little more to the outside world,” says Mattia Gemelli, Chair of Rio council – Rio is a “comune” (a municipality or local government area) which was set up this year through the amalgamation of two others, Rio nell’Elba and Rio Marina.
Work will begin at the municipalities of Rio Marina, Capoliveri, Porto Azzurro, Marciana and Marciana Marina (reaching completion before summer 2019), and will then start up at Portoferraio and the former municipality of Rio nell’Elba. Eventually 20,000 houses and offices will be connected via fiber optic cables, enabling them to enjoy unprecedentedly fast connection speeds via FTTH (Fiber to the Home) architecture.
For Marco Gasparini, Regional Manager of Open Fiber in Tuscany, “the island is taking part in a major national modernisation project. Even the remotest areas on Elba will be able to take advantage of ultrafast connectivity with a future-proof network that can provide transmission capabilities of up to 40 Gbps and support increasingly cutting-edge services for residents, tourists, companies and local government.”
Gasparini has no hesitation in describing the Ultrabroadband National Plan in areas lacking these facilities through market failure (6,753 municipalities in 16 Italian regions and the province of Trento) as “an important initiative for the development of the entire country.” Daniele Veltroni, Open Fiber Field Manager for the province of Livorno, says that “the sites at Marciana and Marciana Marina, where 90 kilometres of fibre optic cables are to be laid in order to connect 6,000 building units, are part of one of Open Fiber’s biggest projects in Tuscany". The regional authorities have launched a nine-month service conference involving 91 local government bodies. “All the municipalities have already given their permission and have made available all existing infrastructure. The work would have been impossible without their involvement,” says Gasparini.
Tourism and WiFi
The new Open Fiber network will bring Elba closer to mainland Italy, bridging the digital divide that separated it from the future.
“Nowadays we are concentrating on extending the tourist season as far as possible,” says Sara Spinetti of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park Tourist Office in Portoferraio, which is open all year round. The Walking Festival, for example, takes place from 25 April to 1 May and from 22 September to 7 October.
Tourism is also changing on Elba. The beach is no longer enough, even on an island famous for lovely seaside areas like Marciana Marina. This was awarded the Legambiente environmental association’s Blue Ribbon and for years it has been the setting for the Italian TV series “I delitti del BarLume.”
But these days tourists, especially those from outside Italy, are looking for something else – the adventure of climbing the granite cliffs of the Costa dei Gabbiani, snorkelling at Cala dei Turchi, hiking on Monte Capanne, mountain biking at Porto Romano Bay or horse-riding along the trails of Monte Calamita, as well as, of course, a visit to Napoleon Bonaparte’s residences in exile: his winter home, Villa dei Mulini, and the summer house, Villa di San Martino.
There’s plenty to do on Elba, but the lack of Wi-Fi often makes itself felt. “Yes, Wi-Fi isn’t just a problem for our tourists,” says Spinetti. But it will be solved once and for all with the arrival of fiber optic technology.
“The new network is future-proof. It will provide speeds that few Italian cities currently enjoy,” says Alessandro Billi, Head of Broadband and Ultrabroadband infrastructure for the Tuscany region. “All local government offices, residents and companies who apply for it will be offered high-speed connections, enabling them to become part of a communications environment similar to those existing in the large urban centres. Infrastructure will no longer create a bottleneck.” And Elba will be connected to the entire world.