MADRID – Hundreds of municipalities in sparsely populated Spanish regions have experienced that the benefit of an internet connection contributes greatly to the quality of life of their inhabitants.
The government is investing more than €2.3 billion to have the whole of Spain online by 2025.
Moreover, having good and fast internet is a means of stimulating the economy and attracting people. Fiber optic was installed last year in the Cantabrian village of Peñarubbia (approx. 321 inhabitants). For the residents, this was the biggest revolution since the arrival of electricity. Due to the exodus, a number of basic facilities had disappeared from the village. Now local entrepreneurs, especially in the tourism sector, are seeing their clientele increase significantly thanks to e-commerce. People in their twenties no longer live in isolation, but can be followed by their families at any time of the day via cameras. And empty houses serve as workplaces.
All of Spain online in 2025
The lack of a good internet connection widens the digital divide between the Spanish cities and the countryside. It leads to isolation, less chance of quality education, lack of work, and idleness. To put an end to this situation, the Spanish government presented the Connectivity Plan in December 2020 with an investment of more than €2.3 billion, so that all of Spain will have a fast and good internet connection by 2025.
In the last three years, the number of broadband connections – network connections of more than 100 MB per second – has increased from almost 39-63% in rural areas, according to data from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Digital Transformation.
The internet can meet the need for basic services of the rural population. “It is a radical change. Everyone benefits from it: the residents, the entrepreneurs. And the potential is enormous. Besides reducing the rural divide, it could also solve other problems: the geographical distribution, light and water supply, the fires…” explains Secundino Caso, mayor of Peñarubbia and president of the Network for Rural Development (REDR).
Increasing trend working from home
Working from home in rural areas has increased sharply since the arrival of corona. On the Idealista housing site, the number of searches for housing in rural municipalities (with fewer than 5000 inhabitants) in November 2020 amounted to 14.8% of the total, 4% more than in 2019.
Digitization of post offices in rural areas
The Spanish state postal company Correos has started digitizing its rural offices. Residents no longer have to go to the big city to withdraw cash, apply for a subsidy or pay a bill. So far, seven of the 2,295 offices and service points in rural areas have been digitized. In order to further implement the project, Correos has entered into partnerships with other organisations, such as Banco Santander.
Correos hopes to transform 9 other offices this year and to largely complete the project next year. According to sources within the postal company, Correos wants to give an impulse to entrepreneurship and economic activities in rural areas.
Smart collar in livestock farming
“Digitalization is useful and rewarding in rural areas,” emphasizes the chairman of the REDR. He points to the positive influence that this technological revolution will have on the agricultural sector, the economic engine of the Spanish countryside. “For example, via a smart collar, animal health data can be transmitted to the farmer. This will have a positive effect on productivity,” he confirms.
Other interesting initiatives have also been launched, including the Sativum computer program. A program that allows you to keep an eye on the ups and downs of crops. Satellite images, information from 200 weather stations, and a database with more than 16,000 soil samples are used for this.
Online during lockdown
During the lockdown it also became clear how important ‘being online’ is. Internet purchases increased by 50% and consumers bought more local products. Raquel Cortino from Monleras, a village with 226 inhabitants in Salamanca, can have a say in this. Months before the pandemic, she opened a handmade soap shop there. When the country went into lockdown, the internet was a godsend. This enabled her to market her products online. “That saved me,” Cortino says, adding: “Doing business over the Internet isn’t easy. The competition is fiercer and there is no personal contact with the customer, but it is an opportunity for the rural producers: it puts us on a par with companies in the big cities”.