Holding pattern: An Italian city with no cell phone signal


Galliano di Mugello, a village in Tuscany surrounded by cypress trees, not only looks tranquil; it is characterized by stillness. “It’s beautiful,” said correspondent Seth Doane. “The only thing you hear is people talking on the street.”

The ambient sounds here are those of conversations – and not on a cell phone.

While the view of the quaint Tuscan village of Galliano di Mugello isn’t marred by a cellphone tower, that also means those in need of cellphone service are out of luck.

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Nessun serviceas we say,” said Carlo Ducci.

“No service! Pretty typical?”

“Yes / Yes.”

Ducci grew up near Galliano di Mugello and wrote a travel guide about the place. It’s a part of Tuscany he describes as “a hidden gem”.

A medieval jewel with a modern flair: Once part of the fiefdom of the powerful Medici family, it is striking today that there is a lack of electricity – there is no cell phone reception.

The city butcher runs his business mainly via the fixed network. He does have a mobile phone to hand, but not for making calls, but for playing games.

Andrea Guasti keeps a mobile phone, but he doesn’t answer calls because he can’t.

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The city is not alone; There are 91 municipalities in Tuscany struggling with cellular service, in a country surprisingly lagging behind in terms of technology. Italy ranks at the bottom of the European Commission’s Digital Competitiveness Index, just behind Latvia, the Czech Republic and Croatia.

Butcher Andrea Guasti told Doane, “It’s not a big sacrifice for me.”

But for those who have to work or are engaged in long-distance study, there is great difficulty and great effort, as we learned from a long road in the outskirts.

College student Gregorio Ferretti told Doane that he often comes here to study when the house has no internet service. The seventeen-year-old said he has to hike here almost once a week as the slightest weather disruption shuts down their already shaky internet. There’s no cellular service in town, but he can pick up a small signal up here. “Tre bar – three bars. That’s not bad!” Ferretti said.

When his internet service goes down, college student Gregorio Ferretti wanders out of town to pick up a signal.

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Online learning sparked by the pandemic has created particular problems in this place, which are only somewhat mitigated by the view.

“We discovered the beauty of life and the connection between friends,” Ferretti said. “But we’re a bit isolated.”

At the local inn, owner Valentina Parrini sensed this isolation. She has a land line at reception but that didn’t help much last winter when she was sleeping on her cell phone upstairs and heard a burglar.

“I tried calling the police from every corner of the room,” she said.

Doane asked, “How hard was it to get a connection on the phone that night?”

“20 minutes,” she replied.

The village mayor, Giampiero Mongatti, told Doane that there isn’t enough profit in this tiny town to invest in telecom companies.

Doane asked, “This is more than an inconvenience though; that can also be a problem for public safety, a danger?”
Mongatti said: “We mayors have a disaster preparedness plan. For example, in December 2019 we had a seismic event – we tried to reach the residents but they were outside where there was no signal. So we had to send the police out with a megaphone.”

The sides of the buildings in Galliano di Mugello are not dotted with cell phone towers.

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He hopes millions of euros in new European Union funding aimed at closing the “digital divide” could help Italy.

“Now it’s about finding a solution,” said Mongatti. “And then we have the fight over the timeline.”

Doane said: “It sounds – without offense – like a very Italian situation.”

“I would have said that, too,” he admitted.

But while practicality is a challenge, in a place where cell phones don’t ring or ring, residents tell us they’ve found the joy of face-to-face conversation, so maybe they’re better connected after all.

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Story produced by Jon Carras and Sabina Castelfranco. Publisher: Emanuel Secci.

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