Italy's internet is 30 years old. But is it finally speeding up?

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Italy's internet turned thrirty on Friday. Photo:Scott Beale/Flickr
16:43 CEST+02:00
On April 29th 1986, Italy became the fourth European country to connect to the internet. Thirty years on, it has the slowest speeds in the EU.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was just 11 years old when boffins at Pisa University sent a stream of data - travelling at mere bits per second  - to Roaring Creek, Pennsylvania. With it, they ushered in a new era: Italy had connected to the internet for the first time.

Fast forward thirty years, and Renzi visited the university on Friday to mark the historic day, safe in the knowledge that Italy was no longer an internet trailblazer.

Averaging a measly 8.73 Mbps, Italy's internet speeds are the second lowest in the EU. When it comes to the coverage of ultra-fast broadband - access to speeds of more than 100 Mbps -  things are even worse.

In the ultra-fast standings, Italy is dead last in Europe, with just one fifth of all its households capable of navigating at speeds which the rest of Europe takes for granted.

Not only are sluggish speeds a bugbear for citizens, who increasingly consume digital media online, critics also suggest that years of poor e-governance has hamstrung the Italian economy.

Sluggish speeds have condemned the country to low rates of e-commerce while forcing innovative technology companies to move elsewhere.

“Italy's internet woes boil down to repeated under-investment and neglect by our governments over the last 20 years," a spokesperson for the Italian government's digital agency, AgID, told The Local.

"They were simply not interested in innovation."

After years of under-investment, Renzi pledged 6 billion of government funds to refresh the country's outdated internet infrastructure in March 2015.

The money will be used to do things like incentivize service providers to swap their networks of slow and ancient copper cables with modern, speedy fibre optic ones - even in isolated rural areas where internet useage is low.

The scale of the job is so big that Amazon senior executive, Diego Piacentini, announced earlier this year he would be leaving his job for two years in order to work for free at the government's digital technology office in Rome.

The target is to have 85 percent of all homes running speeds of at least 35 megabits by 2020. It sounds fast, but current speeds in Finland average 45 Mbps.

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"In addition to boosting internet speeds the government is challenging all departments to update their websites and offer citizens the possibility to do more from home," the spokesperson added.

If all goes to plan by 2017 it should be possible for Italian residents to do things like pay road tax, view health and pension data and file tax returns online, things which are now commonplace in most other European countries.

"Closing the digital gap with the rest of Europe is a big job, but we are going to get it done on time," the spokesperson said.

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