Closing the digital divide and ensuring people everywhere have reliable access to quality broadband services has been a long-standing talking point for politicians, regulators and telecoms executives. In fact, the most recent convocation of the World Economic Forum saw the formation of the EDISON Alliance, a group including many telecom luminaries that’s focused on developing public/private partnerships to rapidly address the connectivity issue.

While the conversation around the digital divide predates the global COVID-19 pandemic, the rapid shift from in-person classes and working from offices to web-based instruction and working from home has served to drive home the inequities in access facing people in many parts of the world.

But, for its part, Italian operator TIM has shown that it is indeed possible to achieve 100% population coverage in the Apulia region in the southeast portion of the country along the Adriatic Sea. Apulia, at some 7,500-square miles, is home to just more than 4 million people with a population density around 540 people per square mile.

According to TIM, it’s fiber-to-the-home and fiber-to-the-cabinet infrastructure reaches 99.4% of households using the network in the area with the former providing 1 Gbps service and the latter supporting 200 Mbps speeds. FTTC describes fiber running to local cabinets and copper running from the cabinet to homes. The less than 1% of households without wired connections are served by either satellite or fixed wireless access.

TIM said COVID-19 hasn’t impeded its ongoing fiber deployment with work recently proceeding in 200 municipalities. TIM said that since the start of the pandemic, it has accelerated fiber deployment in around 3,500 municipalities and that 91% of Italian on-network households have access to fiber.

The group’s goal is to “accelerate and foster unprecedented collaboration between the ICT community and other critical sectors of the economy” with an eye on “rapid digital development.”

On the WEF’s digital divide ambitions via the EDISON Alliance, Founder Klaus Schwab said: “The time for gradual change toward digital access and adoption is over. we must highlight the critical nature of this challenge as foundational to so many others—and bring those who care about education, health, climate, equality and growth to also be champions in our mission to bring connectivity to all.”

Serving on the EDISON Alliance board are Chairman Hans Vestberg, CEO of Verizon, Mastercard Executive Chairman Ajay Banga, Rawanda’s Minister of Information and Communications Technology and Innovation Paula Ingabire, Vista Equity Partners CEO Robert Smith, and Shobana Kamineni, executive vice chairperson of Apollo Hospitals.

“Champions” of the EDISON Alliance familiar to readers of this site include American Tower CEO Thomas Barlett, Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm, GSMA Director General Mats Granryd, MTN Group CEO Ralph Mupita, Nokia CEO Pekka Lundmark, and Qualcomm CEO-elect Cristiano Amon. 

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