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The Cagli Media Project
Institute for Education
in International Media
Andrew Ciofalo, Director

By Anne Wessell

Daniele D'Alba, Townet founder

On a beautiful summer day the piazza of Cagli, Italy, bustles with activity. The citizens come for many reasons: to conduct business at city hall, to shop at the stores lining the square, or to grab a bite to eat while catching up with friends at the cafes and restaurants surrounding the square.

Soon they’ll be able to do something else: surf the Internet. They will be able to open their laptops to check their e-mail while sipping an espresso at Caffé D’Italia.

The company making wireless broadband Internet access a reality is Townet. Founded in 2003, the tiny company based in nearby Acqualagna is creating a wireless broadband Internet network connecting rural towns scattered across the Italian landscape.

The task of linking rural towns to the Internet has been hampered for years by their remoteness – most are nestled among hills and mountains – and has not been considered profitable by Telecom Italia, the near-monopoly that controls most of the Internet service market in Italy, says Townet founder Daniele D’Alba. Townet now offers Internet access to small, secluded towns that previously had no way to connect to the World Wide Web.

According to Miniwatts Marketing Group, as of January 2007, 51.7 percent of the Italian population used the Internet, a dramatic increase from 2000 when only 22.8 percent of the population was logged on.

Townet currently has nine employees and its annual sales have grown from around 100,000 euro in 2003 to 1 million euro today, D’Alba says. Many factors have contributed to the success of Townet, most notably the company’s focus on the rural regions of Italy. Townet’s work in these areas is helping to close the digital divide, the gap between the people who have access to the Internet and those who do not.

D’Alba, a Cagli native, attributes his success to his focus on the out-of-the-way market. “Sometimes being in Rome or Milan, the big cities, is an advantage. But, as in my case, sometimes being in a rural zone with a difficult situation is its own advantage because it makes you come up with a solution.

Lucio Guerra, technical advisor for the Comunita Montana di Catria e Nerone, an alliance of Cagli and four other neighboring municipalities, says that with Townet, “We are combating the digital divide. They have such good products that we’ve been able to take broadband Internet access to remote places that would never have been served by Telecom, because it would not make commercial sense.”

Wireless comes to the piazza.

Recently D’Alba and his company have made the University of Urbino, 30 minutes north of Cagli, a wireless campus. Not only does the Townet network allow students to access the Internet on campus, it allows people in towns like Cagli to take advantage of the educational services of the university through e-learning. According to D’Alba, this wireless access is “great for people who can’t go to Urbino; they can stay in Cagli and receive an education.”

In addition to educational opportunities, D’Alba envisions that the growing Internet network will offer tourists free visitor information. Visitors who log onto Townet’s network will have the opportunity to view, free of charge, information about the towns linked by the network. Tourists will be able to post their comments and suggestions for others to view.

Townet has grown at the rate of 300 percent each year since its founding in 2003. D’Alba’s personal goal is to make his company successful in the global business market. As a result of the growth that Townet is experiencing, it will likely build a new headquarters in Cagli, basing the administration and production divisions in one location.

As Internet access becomes more widely available in small towns like Cagli, many citizens wonder what impact this access will have on the personal interaction that is the hallmark of many small-town piazze.

While D’Alba believes that face-to-face contact among people is important, he believes that the Internet is a “good way to meet someone, to make a first non-emotional contact.” These first contacts may lead to personal meetings between people in the piazza and other areas of town.

D’Alba represents a new generation of entrepreneurs helping to transform centuries-old towns like Cagli into thriving 21st century communities with access to the rest of the world just a click away.

Web Design by Allison Bockman
Photos by Claire Davis
Video by takako Sato