If you visit the village of Galliano di Mugello in northern Tuscany, you will hear no pings from cell phones or see residents hunched over tablets in the café searching the web. Here, life is a simpler, where a morning espresso and reading the newspaper is the norm and even if that were not the preference, there is little alternative. The village has no cell phone service or wifi.
Situated about 15 miles north of Florence and 25 miles south of Bologna, the hamlet, located a scant two miles from the Ferrari-owned Mugello racing circuit, exists a world where the main source of information is through television, radio and of course, conversation.
Surrounded by picturesque rolling hills, Galliano di Mugello could be a haven for those wanting a digital detox. But the absence of cell phone coverage is less endearing for many of its 1,300 inhabitants, who are starting to rise up against not being able to make a call, send a text or search the internet on their handheld devices.
Galliano di Mugello became a symbol of Italy’s digital divide after a report from the Ministry of Innovation placed near the top of the 204 areas in the country without mobile phone coverage and only patchy internet service. Although people can access the internet at home through a recently introduced broadband network, the connection is often disrupted, especially when the weather is bad. Almost everyone has a smart phone, but find it useless in the village itself.
While the scenery and charms of Galliano di Mugello are enticing, bridging the digital divide is a top priority for Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government. A significant proportion of the more than €200 billion that Italy is receiving from the EU’s post-coronavirus pandemic recovery fund is set to be spent on digitalization. Said Mayor Giampiero Mongatti, “There is a strong sense of community in Galliano and you never see people in the street staring at their phones. While all of that is very nice, at the same time people want to be connected and shouldn’t be treated as second-class citizens.”
Mongatti’s office in the town hall is situated in the better-connected nearby town of Barberino. He has argued that mobile phone coverage is now a basic necessity, especially in an emergency situation. In December 2019, when the area was struck by a moderate earthquake, he was unable to communicate safety procedures to people in Galliano using social media and instead had to send police patrols to tell people what to do.
The Mayor said that the issues that makes Galliano stand out from other towns without cellular coverage access are its sizable population and proximity to an international facility (Mugello Circuit). By no means is the village remote, it is less than an hour by car to the center of Florence, but Mongatti refuses to promote it as a vacation destination for those seeking to get away from technology. “When I go to the beach in the summer, I turn off my phone,” he said. “But the true liberty isn’t about not having a signal, but about being able to choose when to switch off and we need to give the citizens of Galliano that choice.”