August 18, 2022

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Galliano di Mugello, a village in Tuscany framed by cyprus trees, does not just appear...

Galliano di Mugello, a village in Tuscany framed by cyprus trees, does not just appear tranquil; it’s marked by silence. “It’s beautiful,” said correspondent Seth Doane. “The only thing you hear is people talking in the street.”
The ambient sounds here are that of conversation – and not on a cell phone.
The view of the picturesque Tuscan village of Galliano di Mugello isn’t marred by a cell phone tower, but that also means anyone needing mobile service is out of luck. 

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“Nessun servizio, as we say,” said Carlo Ducci.

“No service! Pretty typical?”
“Yes, yes.”
Ducci grew up near Galliano di Mugello, and wrote a guidebook about this place. It’s a part of Tuscany that he describes as “a hidden jewel.”
A medieval jewel with a modern distinction: While it was once part of the fiefdom of the mighty Medici family, it’s now noteworthy for the lack of power overhead – there’s no cell phone service.
The town butcher runs his business mostly by landline. He does keep a mobile phone handy, but not for calls – it’s for playing games.
Andrea Guasti does keep a cell phone, but not to take calls, because he can’t.

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The town is not alone; there are 91 municipalities across Tuscany struggling with cell phone service, in a country which is surprisingly way behind technological times. Italy ranks near the bottom of the European Commission’s index of digital competitiveness, just behind Latvia, the Czech Republic, and Croatia.
Butcher Andrea Guasti told Doane, “For me, it’s not a big sacrifice.”
But for those who need to work or are involved in long-distance learning, there are great difficulties, and they go to great lengths, as we learned on a long road on the outskirts of town.
Student Gregorio Ferretti told Doane he comes here often to study, when the house doesn’t have internet service. The seventeen-year-old said nearly once a week he has to hike up here, as the slightest weather disruption knocks out their already-shaky internet. There’s no mobile service in town, but up here he can get a little signal. “Tre bar – three bars. That’s not bad!” Ferretti said.
When his internet service goes out, student Gregorio Ferretti hikes outside town to pick up a signal.  

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Online learning prompted by the pandemic has created particular problems in this place, only eased, a bit, by the view.
“We have found the beauty of life and the connection between friends,” Ferretti said. “But we are a little isolated.”
At the local inn, owner Valentina Parrini felt that isolation. She has a landline at reception, but that wasn’t very helpful last winter, when she was sleeping upstairs with just her cell phone, and heard a burglar.
“I tried to call police from all corners of the room,” she said.
Doane asked, “how hard was it to get a line that night on the phone?”
“20 minutes,” she replied.
The village’s mayor, Giampiero Mongatti, told Doane there’s not enough profit in this tiny town for telecom companies to invest.
Doane asked, “This is more than just an inconvenience, though; this can also be a public safety issue, a hazard?”Mongatti said, “We mayors have a civil protection plan. For example, in December 2019 we had a seismic event – we tried to reach residents, but they were outside where there was no signal. So, we had to send out the police with a megaphone.”
The sides of buildings in Galliano di Mugello are not dotted with cell towers. 

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He’s hopeful millions of euros in new European Union funding, aimed at closing the “digital divide,” could help Italy.
“Now, the battle is to find a solution,” Mongatti said. “And then, we have the battle of fighting for the timeline.”
Doane said, “It sounds – with no offence – like a very Italian situation.”
“I would’ve said the same,” he admitted.
But while the practicality of this poses a challenge, in a place with no cell phones ringing or dinging, residents told us they have found the joy of conversation in person, so perhaps they’re better connected after all.
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      Story produced by Jon Carras and Sabina Castelfranco. Editor: Emanuel Secci.

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