AGCOM (the Italian communications authority) and the Competition Authority have launched an in-depth survey of the information and communications technology (ICT) sector. Fixed and mobile broadband and ultra-fast broadband services will be under scrutiny, as will potential anti-competitive cartels in the sector. The initiative comes under the umbrella of the cooperation agreement set forth in a memorandum of intent jointly issued by AGCOM and the Competition Authority, and will involve sector operators.

Spanning a six-month period, the survey is intended to gather information on market prospects and the elements integral to the establishment of regulatory strategies that can adapt to technological and market evolution. The survey will also identify the major competition issues that arise in the supply of ICT networks and services, and will facilitate infrastructure and innovation investments in order to meet the targets set forth in the digital agenda for 2020 (for further details please see "Pressing ahead with the digital agenda").

Italy lags significantly behind other countries in the provision of broadband services. Data published by AGCOM shows that only 14% of Italian households have network access at a speed higher than 30 megabits per second – a statistic that is clearly unsatisfactory in view of the aims of the digital agenda, which proposes universal fast broadband coverage (ie, higher than 30 megabits per second) and ultra-fast broadband coverage (ie, over 100 megabits per second) for 50% of households by 2020.

This lag in services was recently pointed out in a report issued by a special committee commissioned by Prime Minister Enrico Letta. The committee was chaired by Francesco Caio and included Gerard Pogorel and Scott Marcus, who were assisted by two Italian sector professionals, Professor Vittorio Trecordi and engineer Valerio Zingarelli (both members of the Bordoni Foundation's scientific committee). Caio is an electronic engineer, formerly with Omnitel, Merloni and Cable & Wireless, and was appointed by Letta as the commissioner in charge of coordinating the Digital Italy Agency.

The committee's report – "Achieving the Europe 2020 broadband targets in Italy: prospects and challenges" – highlights the fact that the target of extending base broadband coverage across the country was effectively reached last year. However, the next target – fast broadband coverage for the entire population within the next seven years – will be more difficult to achieve. Caio has stated that a connection speed of 30 megabits per second may become available to half of all households with landlines by 2017, thanks to very-high-bit-rate digital subscriber line technology and plans already established by Telecom Italia, Fastweb and Vodafone (Telecom Italia and Fastweb are prepared to invest €1.7 billion and €400 million, respectively, while Vodafone intends to ensure 29% coverage across the nation). The 100-megabit-per-second target will prove even more daunting, as the digital agenda proposes that such ultra-fast connection speeds become available to half the population by no later than 2020.

However, this is not the only issue under scrutiny. Following the revelations of the 'Datagate' scandal, the level of attention given to network security and cyber spying has been stepped up. Both of these issues will be addressed in the AGCOM-Competition Authority survey, as will the new protection requirements for private citizens.

As stated in the press release issued by the authorities, the survey will make it possible to identify and implement "efficient regulatory strategies... over time". It will also provide "full information about evolution in the quality of investments in fast and ultra-fast broadband networks", and will evaluate the conditions and prospects of competition in the sector in accordance with the principle of network neutrality. Convergence between fixed and mobile network infrastructure is already in progress, and operators are both implementing strategies to share existing networks and co-investing in the development of next-generation access networks.

Letta commented on the committee's report by stressing that in order to meet the necessary EU targets for developing the country's economy, collaboration between the public and private sectors should be encouraged, with the latter boosting investment. Meanwhile, the public sector should commit itself to scheduling and monitoring progress for all targets. This is a reassuring stance, as Letta seems to consider the accumulated time lag with the proposed targets a matter of urgency. The report falls within the scope of Letta's wider plan – to ensure prompt implementation of all main targets of the digital agenda.

For further information on this topic please contact Vittorio Noseda or Carlo Grignani at NCTM Studio Legale Associato by telephone (+39 02 72 5511), fax (+39 02 72 55 1501) or email (v.noseda@nctm.it or carlo.grignani@nctm.it). The NCTM Studio Legale Associato website can be accessed at www.nctm.it.