Italy and the Digital Decade

Science and Technology - July 4, 2024

Italy, in its race towards complete digitalisation by 2030, is making significant progress, but there are still many challenges to face to achieve the ambitious goals set by the European Union.

According to the EU Commission’s Country Report, Italy shows significant but still untapped potential in many key areas. It would be useful to explore in detail the various key performance indicators (KPIs) that determine Italy’s path towards digitalisation, highlighting both the progress made and the areas that need further improvement.

Italy has made rapid progress in the field of connectivity. Coverage of Very High-Capacity Networks (VHCN) and fiber to the home (FTTP) networks increased, reaching 59.6% in 2023, an increase of 11% compared to the previous year. However, this is still lower than the EU average of 78.8% for VHCN and 64% for FTTP. Coverage in rural areas remains particularly problematic, with only 37.7% of areas covered by VHCN/FTTP compared to the EU average of 55.6%. Despite progress, significant challenges remain. The urban-rural divide is still marked, and diffusion into less densely populated areas is complex and expensive. Furthermore, the lack of skilled workforce represents a significant constraint for further expansion.

The adoption rate of fast fixed broadband is also increasing, although still limited. In 2023, 19.3% of fixed broadband subscriptions delivered connectivity speeds of 1 Gbps or more, up from 14.7% in 2022, and slightly higher than the EU average of 18.5%. Italy aims to reach 100% VHCN coverage by 2026, an ambitious goal considering the current slowdown in growth. Italy achieved nationwide 5G coverage in 2022, with a value of 99.5% in 2023. Furthermore, 88.3% of Italian homes are covered by the 3.4-3.8 GHz band, allowing advanced applications requiring high spectrum bandwidth. However, 5G adoption is slightly lower than the EU average, with 20.4% of SIM cards being 5G compared to 24.6% of the European average.

Italy has made significant progress in e-government, particularly in e-health and digital public services for businesses. These improvements are key to fostering the country’s competitiveness, resilience and digital sovereignty. The increase in public digital services is a crucial step to facilitate interaction between citizens, businesses and administrations, making processes more efficient and accessible. Despite advances in e-government, digital skills remain a significant challenge. Italy must improve the digital education of the population to close the gap with other EU countries. Digital skills are essential not only for citizens, but also for businesses, which must adopt advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) to remain competitive.

The adoption of artificial intelligence by Italian companies is still limited. This delay could compromise the country’s competitiveness in a sector increasingly dominated by advanced technologies. However, Italy is making significant progress in the semiconductor sector, thanks to government attention and private investment. The Italian government has promoted investment in semiconductors through the Microprocessor Fund and corporate tax credits, accompanied by growing private investment.

Italy is emerging as a key player in the development of cloud and edge computing technologies. However, the number of edge nodes deployed in Italy is still limited, representing only 6.5% of all estimated edge nodes in the EU in 2023. The Broadband Strategy 2023-2026 includes measures to support the creation of a Edge-Cloud Computing network, but operational implementation plans are not yet clear. Italy has set an ambitious goal for quantum computing: to build 5 quantum computers by 2030. This goal is supported by centres of excellence and numerous projects that contribute to the development of High Performance Computing (HPC) and quantum capabilities. The EU Commission urges Italy to step up efforts to combine the green and digital transitions. This integrated approach should promote the energy and material efficiency of digital infrastructures, in particular data centres, and support the development and deployment of digital solutions that reduce the carbon footprint in sectors such as energy, transport, buildings and agriculture. It is essential to monitor and quantify emissions reductions resulting from the use of digital solutions, in line with EU guidance. This monitoring will help develop future policies and attract relevant funding, thus contributing to the goals of the Digital Decade and climate action.

Italy has the potential to play a leading role in the EU’s technological leadership, especially thanks to its strong base in semiconductors which, when it comes to edge computing and quantum, represents a significant advantage. However, to fully realize this potential, Italy must face several new challenges that are not without important difficulties: improving connectivity in rural areas, increasing the digital skills of the population and businesses, and effectively integrating the green transition as well as the digital one. Italy’s Recovery and Resilience Plan (Pnrr), among the most efficient in the entire European Community, allocates 25.6% of resources to digital, equal to 47 billion euros. This represents a significant opportunity but is still not sufficient to fully achieve the goals of the Digital Decade. Strong attention is required to the implementation and alignment with the various existing strategic plans, with the collaboration of all entities interested in the implementation of the program.

Participation in joint initiatives with other EU member states remains fundamental for the success of Italy which, however, is considered, to date, among the absolute powers in the technological field and, therefore, already at a good stage of infrastructural development. International collaboration can provide additional resources, expertise and synergies needed to address the challenges of digitalisation. Finally, the active involvement of citizens is crucial. According to the Special Eurobarometer “Digital Decade 2024”, 71% of Italians believe that the digitalisation of daily public and private services is making their lives easier, a fact that must be improved by involving all citizens and ensuring that the benefits of digitalisation are accessible to everyone.

Italy has made significant progress towards realizing the objectives of the EU Digital Decade, but much work remains to be done. With continued commitment, strategic investments and strong international collaboration, Italy can achieve its digitalization goals and become a technology leader in Europe. Looking to the future, Italy must continue to push for digitalization in all sectors. It is essential to develop a robust infrastructure that supports the adoption of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT) and 6G networks, which represent the next evolutionary step in connectivity.

A crucial aspect will be the investment in digital training. Digital skills must become a priority not only for young people, but also for the current workforce. Continuous training programs and refresher courses will be key to ensuring that everyone can contribute to and benefit from the digital transformation. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) must be at the centre of the digitalization strategy. Tax incentives, subsidies and access to advanced digital infrastructure can help these businesses innovate and compete globally. The digitalisation of SMEs is essential to strengthen the Italian economy and ensure sustainable growth.

Finally, effective collaboration between the public and private sectors will be key. The government must continue to create a favourable regulatory environment, while companies must invest in research and development. Together, they can tackle technological challenges and build a prosperous digital future for Italy. Italy has a promising but challenging path ahead of it. With a clear vision, targeted investments and collective commitment, the country can fully realize its digital potential and contribute significantly to the objectives of the EU Digital Decade.


Alessandro Fiorentino