Eyeing fiscal crisis, Italy Internet forum urges digital investment

Internet, technology key to overcoming Eurozone woes, group says

Participants at an Internet forum in the northern Italian town of Trento have written to Prime Minister-designate Mario Monti, urging him to up Italy's investment in the digital economy.

Monti, an economist and former European competition commissioner, has been tapped to form a new government of national unity following the resignation last week of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Berlusconi stepped down as Italy found itself at the epicenter of the Eurozone's financial crisis, with the "spread" on the cost of refinancing the national debt between Italy and Germany approaching unsustainable levels.

Participants at Italy's Internet Governance Forum warned Monti that the "digital spread" between Italy and its main industrial competitors was also reaching a level that could prove unsustainable for the national economy.

The Internet experts said they were worried by the ignorance of politicians and government inaction on the issue, and in particular the failure to invest in broadband infrastructure.

"We can't wait for the economic crisis to be over before investing in the digital economy because, as the European Commission's 2020 strategy affirms, the development of the digital economy is itself an essential precondition for overcoming the crisis," the letter said.

The authors of the letter pointed out that the digital economy currently amounted to 2 percent of Italy's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and had created more than 700,000 jobs over the last 15 years.

European Commission figures show just 48.9 percent of Italian homes have an Internet connection, as compared to a E.U. average of 60.8 percent, the financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore reported Saturday.

The letter said Italy's progress had been mortified by government inaction and repeated attempts to restrict the freedom of the Web.

"The Internet Governance Forum appeals to you to ensure the new government takes concrete steps, if necessary by appointing a specific minister, for the full implementation of a digital agenda in conformity with European Union recommendations," the letter said.

Many of the approximately 100 speakers who addressed the Trento forum were critical of the outgoing government's efforts to advance the digital agenda in Italy and of the limited attention devoted to the topic by parliament.

"We have analyzed the problem form all points of view and we have constantly come up against an institutional rubber wall," Alfonso Fuggetta, scientific director of the Milan-based CEFRIEL research institute, told the meeting, which concluded on Saturday.

"One can talk about how we should create our broadband infrastructure, but it's unacceptable for people still to be asking whether the country really needs it."

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