Shops can accept card payments at last in Benaoján. / M.F.

Digital divide has been reduced by half in Malaga province in the past year

The rapid expansion of broadband has meant that now only 6,000 homes in the province lack a high-speed internet connection

JAVIER LÓPEZ MALAGA.

Making a doctor's appointment, doing the weekly supermarket shop, reading the newspaper, looking at WhatsApp messages, examining personal profiles on social media... in just a few years an internet connection has become a basic necessity - and also an addictive one - that has changed all of our everyday lives; and so lacking access to this service has serious consequences.

Now, this "digital divide" between those who have access and those who don't is being closed at speed in Malaga province. The number of homes without internet access has dropped by half in the last year.

The figures come from the latest report drawn up by the Spanish government's ministry for telecommunications, which draws the map of digital connection, or rather lack of it, for the entire country. This data shows that the number of households in Malaga province without internet access has gone from 12,065 in 2021 to 6,147 at the end of last year.

These are the so-called 'white areas', in other words areas where there is no broadband internet connection and "no plans to install one by any operator within three years, based on credible investment plans," the report says.

Between no access whatsoever and the digital 'first world' are what are known as 'grey areas'. These are homes in areas where people can only opt for one operator to receive a service with a speed of less than 100 Mbps. The report shows that 9,210 homes in Malaga province are in this situation, but this is a drop of 60.8% compared with the 23,498 households affected a year ago.

If we combine the white and grey zones in Malaga, we can see that there are still 15,357 homes in the province with a deficient internet connection. That is still a significant number, even though it is a drop of 56.81% compared with the situation a year ago.

Another way of checking how the implantation of broadband in Malaga province is going is to look at the percentage of homes with no internet access in villages where the percentages are lowest. This can be done by comparing the number of unconnected homes recorded by the secretary of state for telecommunications with the last official census of households, drawn up by the national statistics institute (INE) in 2011.

Much lower percentages

Comparing both parameters, at the end of 2021 the local municipality at the greatest disadvantage was Benaoján (in the Sierra de Ronda), where 97.9 per cent of households were without broadband. It was followed by Carratraca (94.5%), Montejaque (87.6%) and Istán (59.9%).

Now, those percentages have fallen by half. Almogía is the worst-connected municipality with 43 per cent of households without broadband, followed by Guaro (33.3%), Villanueva de la Concepción (28.1%) and Álora (21.4%).

What's more, in some villages broadband is now flourishing where before it was conspicuous by its absence. Benaoján is one of them now, where barely 1.35% of households lack high-speed internet.

Something similar has occurred in Carratraca, with just 1.85% of homes without broadband, and in Montejaque the percentage is just 0.1% of the homes in the heart of the village.

"In Malaga we are far ahead, the commitment is serious and the system is working well," said the head of the official Andalusian association of telecommunications engineers, Pedro Córdoba. He was referring to the New Generation Broadband Extension Programme (PEBA), which was set up by the government to take quality internet to all urban communities and, above all, homes in rural areas.

"The commitment was to install broadband to 38,000 homes in Malaga between 2022 and 2023, and 50% of that has been completed this year," Córdoba explained.

"These stimulus programmes are a priority for technological development in rural environments. The technology in general, and access to internet in particular, is a determining factor in places' development. Nowadays if you have no connectivity, you're out of the game," he said.

He did, however, add a word of warning. "In Malaga the easiest part has been done. What comes now is more complicated," he said. And those complications are often due to the difficult terrain.

"The worst areas are a long way from the main roads, and if there are roads with no cables... all these are obstacles in the path for the operators. The further into the mountains a place is, the more difficult it is to connect because you cannot use micro-trenching or poles and so it is much more complicated," he explained.

In Malaga province quite a few bridges still remain to be crossed in order to close the digital divide completely.