RealTime IT News

Italian City Connected to the Net For Free

Seventeen-hundred families living in the city of Bologna will soon be provided free Internet service, as part of a unique test to introduce new public services into Italian homes, city officials announced recently.

The test, through a collaboration of the City of Bologna and Telecom Italia, will begin in January and run for 18 months.

"As city officials, our principle objective is to utilize modern technology to make the life of citizens easier," explained Leda Guidi, coordinator of the network program. "If someone does not have time during the day to come to the city hall for a birth certificate or other document, for example, or if they need to pay city offices for gas, electrical, or water services, they can now do it from their home."

To get a true impact on the ease or difficulty of incorporating Internet into the daily lives of Bologna's population, 1,000 computer owners will be given free access to the Internet by Telecom Italia. The remaining 700 test families will receive free decoders for WebTV access. The concept of utilizing WebTV came about as a result of the growing ease in Internet technology through this means and the fact that citizens could utilize telephone lines and television sets, rather than PCs.

"We wanted a segment of the test market to be non-computer users," says Guidi. The advantage of WebTV is that it does not require users to be computer-literate."

The City of Bologna was not randomly selected for the test. Telecom Italia's Internet backbone and fiberoptic network is perhaps better in this center than any other in city in Italy. In addition, this university capital maintains one of the highest populations of Internet users, with approximately 25 percent of the population linked to the Web through 33 ISPs.

The average test market consists of families with two or more members between the ages of 30 and 50 years. The city, however, is not limiting its Internet drive to test families, however.

To expand the potential market for both PC-based and WebTV Internet, the Italian chain-store Coop has been contracted to selling decoders and Telecom Italia subscriptions for WebTV service. To enhance online purchases and make the payment process easier, the City of Bologna has also established an agreement with the local Cassa di Risparmio bank, whereby citizens can obtain a free credit card limited exclusively to online sales.