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The Microeconomics of The Digital Divide

The real costs of delivering big files with a slow broadband — a true story

San Galgano — Source: Wikipedia

Italy is still one of the most affluent countries in the world, but, for some reasons, it can’t build a broadband network with a sufficient reach to cover the areas outside the main urban regions. While I am writing this post, on a tab on Google Chrome, I am trying to send a very high-resolution tiff file to a couple of artists in Siena. I live 72 kilometers away from Siena, in Massa Marittima, a small town in southern Tuscany. Twelve hours in the process (and with three more to go) I’m wondering: would have it been more efficient if I just put the file on a pen drive and drive my way to Siena?

The journey to Siena lasts, on average, 90 minutes. The average speed is around 45 Km/h (25 mph), this is because the road is bendy. It offers a unique landscape, passing just besides the Monte Siepi Church and the San Galgano abbey. Plus, the general landscape of Tuscany is really worth the effort of fasten a seatbelt and go for a ride. But reaching Siena and driving back, means three hours of unproductive seating. But the relationship between the time I would spend transferring manually the file and transferring it digitally can be expressed by the following inequality:

3 hrs < 15 hrs

How expensive are those three hours of driving? Put it simple, for a journey to Siena, I should consume 4 liters of unleaded gasoline. Gasoline is circa € 1.5 on average per liter (in US$ per gallons should be something around 6.74). So, every journey costs me, on approximation, 6 Euros. At home, I have a flat broadband subscription, costing circa 30€/month. Meaning that, dividing the subscription by 30 (the days of a month) I get 1€/day that means 4 eurocents/hour. This means that a huge transfer of file like the one I am trying to do costs 0.60€. So, we have a new inequality:

6€ >0.60€

We have, now, a very tricky problem. A creative professional (a photographer or a videomaker) might have serious issues, trying to run a business in the middle of Tuscany’s countryside. I am lucky: I am just doing a favor to my mother who needs to deliver the file I am delivering for an art exhibition, but, indeed, it is just not efficient to work like that. And it is, above all, a missed opportunity for a territory like Tuscany, which is globalized thanks to its tourism, wine making and art.

This is hardly a new problem. The delta between the performance of Internet in big cities, compared to those of the countryside, is an historical problem of the Italian digital transition and a huge problem, if we want to keep young people in rural centers. How can a young professional start, say, a digital marketing company if the access to Internet is so complicated? To add another pixel to the picture, the connection is not even stable. When it rains, my router goes offline. The day I had a job interview via skype, it rained and you can imagine how things got messy.

This is not just a style exercise or e sterile compliant. It is a post about how important Internet has become and how important is to advocate a fast internet connection for everyone. The Italian government has launched a very ambitious program to bring broadband everywhere in the country. I can see people deploying cables even close to my place. But the job is still far from done.

As I wait, my only hope is that it does not rain.

If you want to share a story about how the digital divide is affecting you, answer below or email me at francesco.piccinelli[at]gmail.com