Italy – Worst. Internet. Ever.

In our continuing coverage of dumbass blunders I’ve committed during my freelancing career, one of my budding gullibility lapses of all time is buying into the assumption that Italy has something approaching First-World internet service.  Now, I haven’t been to every corner of Italy, but judging from the parts I’ve seen, they rank on the Internet Usability Scale somewhere between the mountains of Northern Laos and the inside of a donkey’s colon.

Imagine the internet connection you had at home in 1996, now imagine that it’s about 70% slower, three times as expensive and/or it only works every third day.  That’s internet in Italy.  Now imagine an environment where about one in 20 people are internet users, with the resultant priority placed on firming up service and reliability and that’s the state of internet on Sardinia, my throw-back island home.

I’ve been reduced to two vehicles for accessing the internet in Sardinia:  My book-deal-slow cellular service and the one and only wifi point in all of Oristano, which I conspicuously plunder from a corner in a café in the main square. 

As I’ve blubbered about previously, my cellular ISP is accessed via a little modem card that I stick in a USB port.  Even in the center of Rome, this thing only delivers a data transfer speed of about 10kps.  Out in my abandoned vacation village, I get about 3kps, barely enough to realistically send and receive small emails and obsessively check my hit count stats every two hours.  Furthermore, this ridiculously sluggish cellular ISP ain’t cheap.  I pay 20 euros per month for one gig of total bandwidth, plus I get slapped with a five euro “recharge fee” each time I put more money in my account.  So, I’m effectively paying over US$31 per month for the slowest internet service since the height of the Roman Empire. In fact, wasn’t there a scene in “Gladiator” when Joaquin Phoenix chopped off some tech guy’s mouse hand after being disconnected during a two hour antivirus update download?  No wonder he tried to sleep with his sister.  You would too if you couldn’t get the Girls Gone Wild front page to load.  Italy’s modern internet robustness could do with some good ol’ fashion Caesar Justice if you ask me.

If it were just a matter of the internet being slow, I could almost manage the situation by multi-tasking my big internet tasks with other duties.  For example, I could start downloading a video of Britney Spears getting out of a car wearing a micro-mini skirt and no panties and then go off and do laundry or maybe watch a different video of Paris Hilton getting out of a car wearing a micro-mini skirt and no panties (is the internet great or what?).  The oozing speed would be annoying, but doable.  Unfortunately, the signal out in the village is so weak that in order to get a connection, I need to open my front door and lean way out with my laptop, often inches from pouring rain, and hold that pose while I send/receive email or run Google searches for “Simpsons” quotes to steal and make my own.

Sometimes, weather permitting, I need to walk out into the middle of the street and a little down the block to get a strong connection.  I’ve been known to take a chair out there with me when I have more tasks than can be comfortably completed with one hand, while holding the laptop out at arms length with the other (this is surprisingly exhausting).  While the sight of a guy wearing candy cane boxer shorts sitting on a dinning room chair in the middle of the street might seem mildly odd in most places, it’s patently bizarre in Italy, where even someone sitting in a café with a laptop open is gawked at like a two headed, Hungarian, freak show headliner – cafes are decidedly not among the places that Italians consider appropriate workspaces, though the number of places (and times) that most Italians consider acceptable for work could barely fill the corner torn off a piece of paper.

As bad as that is, at least the cellular ISP works every day.  For faster service, I often journey into the city to use the wifi in the main square, while enduring undisguised ogling from the hangers on who rotate through the café, getting drunk at noon and playing the free-standing gambling games.  This wifi point is lightning fast, however it has the notable shortcoming of only working a few, randomly selected days per week, and then only for a few hours at a shot.  It’s like the guy who set up the hub somehow programmed the standard Italian obscure holidays, sick days, personal phone calls and smoke breaks into its up-time schedule. 

Many is the time, like at this very sucky moment, that I make the tremendous effort to bus into the city with all my work crap, buy a requisite coffee in the café, sit down, power up my laptop and find that the wifi is dead.  This is profoundly disappointing to say the least.  Indeed, my ability to curse in four languages has been put to extravagant use on these occasions.

And it’s not just this one wifi connection that seemingly pervades the Italian work ethic.  Internet and even telephone service blackouts are apparently routine in Italy, or at least Sardinia.  My Italian teacher reported last week that her internet and telephone (same provider) had been down for two weeks solid.  And these are the people who invented aqueducts and tortellini?

As you may have gathered, I can’t do a lick of work without internet access.  On a typical day, I need to access email, Google, dictionary.com, a few language translation sites, alt.binaries.pictures.salmahayak.whoa! and two different ftp server connections, none of which perform well at 3kps or, not surprisingly, “limited to no connectivity”. 

So, I’m annoyed.  Here I thought I had it bad in Romania, where occasional outages – usually timed to perfectly coincide with me holding pocket aces on PartyPoker.net – had me cursing their feeble infrastructure.  But Romania is a veritable internet utopia compared to the cyber-Bronze Age that Italy seems to be happily stuck in.

Now I must be going.  I have to go sit in the street and spend 30 minutes putting this post up and then read the latest news on who went clubbing sans knickers last weekend.

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