Towns with a high-speed connection have gained inhabitants in recent years, while the rest of rural Spain has lost 4% of its population.

Towns with a high-speed connection have gained inhabitants in recent years, while the rest of rural Spain has lost 4% of its population.

Towns with a high-speed connection have gained inhabitants in recent years, while the rest of rural Spain has lost 4% of its population.

A young man using his mobile phone on the outskirts of a town in Empty Spain

The Covid-19 pandemic made it clear that, despite the public and private efforts made in recent years to provide the Internet to as many localities as possible in the country, the digital gap that exists between the most populated areas and the smallest towns of ‘Empty Spain’ continues to be a reality.

But added to it is another digital divide within rural Spain itself that is perhaps less obvious, but has equal or more important consequences when it comes to addressing the fight against depopulation: the difference in the speed of Internet access that exists between some locations and others.

A study carried out by José Antonio López, CEO of the neutral operator Lyntia and a professional with more than 30 years of experience in the sector of telecommunications, highlights the importance of not only bringing the Internet to ‘Empty Spain’, but also that This service is offered with conditions and connection speeds that allow you to get the most out of the networks.

“One of the main conclusions of the study is that connectivity at a speed of 30 Mbps is insufficient to cover the basic needs of usersbeing precisely the most affected the residents in that part of the geography”, he remarks.

And not only that, the report notes that Providing the populations of rural Spain with networks of at least 100 Mbps speed has many benefits for these localities, since it makes it possible to stop the bleeding of the population in these localities, reduce their level of unemployment and increase their average income.

To reach these conclusions, López has analyzed in his DBA thesis ‘The impact of the Digital Agenda in Rural Spain’ the Effect of the measures deployed between 2014 and 2020 on Spanish populations of less than 2,000 inhabitants. A profile that meets around 12,000 unique population entities in which 5.2 million Spaniards live.

The study addresses three specific aspects by analyzing the differences that exist between localities with 100 Mbps (around 3,000 of those 12,000) and those with 30 Mbps or less: the socioeconomic impact of the deployments carried out within the framework of this digital agenda, the behavior that the networks have had during the 2020 confinement and the business parameters obtained by the operators that provide service in these areas.

More speed, more population

One of the main conclusions of the study is that in the towns where 100 Mbps Internet has been deployed, depopulation has been reversed. Specificthere has been an increase of 1.9% of the population between 2014 and 2020 in contrast to what happens in towns that do not enjoy these speeds. In fact, in the same period there has been a decrease of 4% in rural Spain as a whole.

But, in addition to adding more inhabitants, high-speed networks also generate wealth, as reflected by the fact that towns with fewer than 2,000 with 100 megabytes have managed to raise their average disposable income by 1.4%. This means that almost 40% of the increase in income registered by all the towns in Spain in that period came from these localities.

Likewise, the report also shows that in these localities with high-speed Internet, affiliations to Social Security increased by 3.1% in this period, at the same time as there was a reduction in the unemployment rate by 0.7%.

With 30 Mbps the arrow does not move neither in income, nor in population, nor in employment. No significant change has been noticed, ”says López in an interview with EL ESPAÑOL-Invertia.

Better data for operators

On the other hand, deploying 100 Mbps networks in these towns has also notably improved the business parameters of the operators and, in a very notable way, the figures of households that contract television and content services. For example, Families with a Netflix subscription in locations with high-speed Internet exceed those who live in areas with 30 Mbps by 131%.

In this line, the operators also have in these locations more total customers and fixed broadband and calls to customer service for breakdowns are 27% lower in towns with high speedsince it allows customers to access a better and more stable Internet service.

Another consequence is that telephone companies record notable increases in the average revenue per user (ARPU) in these locationsbetween 15% and 20% compared to the rest of the towns.

López admits that this difference was expected to be greater, since in towns with 30 Mbps, customers have contracted fewer services, given that, for example, this speed does not allow access to pay television with quality. Consequently, this reflects that in ‘Empty Spain’ there is hardly any low-cost market and its citizens pay higher rates for fewer and worse services.

Regarding how the pandemic has been experienced in these localities, the study concludes that people with 30 Mbps (around 1.6 million Spaniards) have not been able to have the same digital life as the rest of Spanish citizenship during confinement. For example, they have been forced to increase the consumption of mobile data, while those with speeds of 100 Mbps have the same ratios as the rest of Spain.

Likewise, this situation of lack and need has also generated an increase in calls with complaints and breakdowns to try to alleviate the situation. In the case of populations with lower Internet speeds, the increase was 29%.

avoid the same mistake

López explains that the study concludes that it was a mistake that the network deployments carried out in rural areas within the framework of the 2014-2020 Digital Agenda set the goal of bringing 30 Mbps Internet to the towns instead of 100 Mbps, because the cost difference was not very high and now it is more expensive to update the networks to be able to offer the speeds that the digital world requires.

Also, warns of the risk that the same story repeats itself with the Spain Digital 2025 strategy. The agenda sets a minimum speed of 100 Mbps for aid plans for the deployment of networks in rural areas, when operators are already offering their clients in urban areas rates with up to 1 Gbps.

Reaching these towns with 100 Mbps in 2025, as stated in the current plan, once again bridges the social and digital divide in these towns, because in the world we are going to, of the metaverse and low latencies, with that speed it is not going to be enough. It is the gigabit world, as the European Commission has said”, he stresses.

In this sense, he adds that with none of the technologies deployed so far, neither mobile nor fixed, digital discrimination has been avoided in Spain. Thus, urges that “the same mistake not be made” and that with the jig this did not happensince the investment to deploy higher speeds is not much higher, now there is money with European funds and the Government and Europe are betting on digital and the rural world.

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