Benaoján suffers from a lack of a strong internet connection. / S. SALAS

The Malaga with no broadband: the problems of going online

More than 12,000 families in the province have no high-speed Internet connection

ANTONIO JAVIER LÓPEZ MALAGA.

"The pandemic has brought a lot of bad things but there have also been some good ones. Look at me, I have started studying, at my age, and I'm over the moon," says Mari Montes. She is 55 and used to run a company which organised sports events. That had to stop because of Covid, and it has not been possible to start it up again, so Mari is now studying Health Administration Documentation, which has opened a door for the future.

However, there is a downside, as she points out: "with the pandemic we had to work and study from home a lot more and we realised how much we need a good internet connection." Because Mari Montes lives in Montejaque, a village where nearly 90 per cent of homes have no broadband internet connection.

"Now, because of my studies, I have to go to Seville sometimes and I notice it much more than before, when I was always in the village. You get used to it here. Your internet speed is what it is, and that's that. But now, you realise the difference. It's frustrating, because in the end you get what you want to do done, but instead of taking a few seconds it takes several hours," says Mari.

More than 12,000 families in Malaga province are in the same position, according to an extensive survey carried out by the Secretary of State for Telecommunications and Digital Infrastructures, part of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Digital Transformation.

That report defines as 'white areas' those with no access to new generation broadband internet "nor plans by any operator to provide it in the next three years, based on credible investment plans," it says. In other words, it is not just that these 12,000 homes in Malaga have no high speed connection, but it is likely that that will remain so in the medium term.

In addition to these households with no connection, the study reports on a second category called 'grey areas', which only have new generation broadband cover or are expecting it within three years from one single operator. And that applies to over 35,000 families in the province according to the analysis, which was updated on 21 July.

Seven villages

If we compare the report from the Secretary of State for Telecommunications with the latest official census of homes in Malaga, which is drawn up by the National Statistics Institute, it can be seen that in seven villages more than half of residents lack a decent internet connection. These are Benaoján, Carratraca, Montejaque, Almogía, Istán, Frigiliana and Canillas de Aceituno.

"It is really inconvenient and it affects your home life," says Juan García, who lives in Benaoján and works in Ronda. "Many of us would love to be able to do some of our work at home but it's impossible. I spend far more time in the office than I would otherwise need to, just because there is fast internet there."

"In Montejaque, once young people have finished their education they nearly always have to move away. With a good internet connection, now that working from home is more common, a lot of them would be able to stay. That would be very important, the possibilities of setting up businesses here would multiply, not just for people from the village but for those who use this as a dormitory town and go to Ronda or the Costa del Sol," says Mari.

What these residents of Montejaque and Benaoján tell us serves to illustrate how much the lack of an adequate internet service not only affects the present, but also the future of many places in Malaga. The issue has come to the fore this week with an announcement by the government of a new phase of a national plan to extend fibre optic in 20 urban centres in the province. However, there will still be about 30 per cent of areas, especially rural ones, without this coverage, says Antonio Rodas, president of the Andalusian Association of Telecommunications Graduates and Engineers (AAGIT).

Digital Spain

"The Digital Spain Plan 2025 foresees that the whole population will have access to at least 100 megas between now and then. In the cities it undoubtedly will, but in rural areas it is much more difficult," says Rodas, who also points out that European funds are being used to alleviate these problems.

"Malaga and Granada are the provinces which are worst off in Andalucía, because of the large number of specific population centres that exist, he says. That is the term for the built-up areas (with housing and commercial premises) into which each municipality is divided. He points out that Malaga has more than 240 of these, more than double the number of municipalities. "This, and not forgetting what the terrain of the province is like, is making it more difficult to bring fibre optic to the whole of Malaga," says Roda. However, he does agree that there have been advances in recent years: "In 2017, half of the province had no broadband. That has been reduced by 20 per cent now, but it is still slow progress," he says.

Villages with no network

Access to the Internet network has also been slow in many expanding areas in inland Malaga. For example, the residents of Los Núñez, in Almogía, where about 400 families live, as the village's Councillor for Works, José María Luque, explains: "The village itself is almost completely wired now, but outlying areas like Los Mora and Los Núñez are still not. These are the areas closest to Malaga city, and a lot of the families are young people who in many cases need to work from home, and of course this is affecting them a great deal," he says.

This is because more than half of the homes in Almogía are affected (61.6%), although the lack of fibre optic is felt especially in outlying districts and expansion zones. It is also in third place on the sad podium of villages in Malaga with the worst Internet connection. Top of the list is Benaoján, with Carratraca second. Their situation is particularly shocking, because practically the whole population lacks a fast Internet connection. To spell it out: 97.9 per cent of families in Benaoján have inadequate Internet access, while in Carratraca the figure is 94.5 per cent.

Looking at these places where, according to the Secretary of State's report, there is no access to broadband and no plans for that to change in the medium term, Antequera particularly stands out. There, almost 900 homes are in these 'white areas'. That figure places Antequera at the top of the list of municipalities with the highest number of households without broadband (872, says the report), although its density of housing means it 'only' represents four per cent of the total number of buildings.

The best connections

At the other end of the scale, in municipalities as varied as Alhaurín de la Torre, Alozaina, Benamocarra, Cártama, Fuengirola, Pizarra, Pujerra, Tolox and Torremolinos no homes are classified as being in 'white areas'.

If we add up these white areas and grey areas and compare them with the number of homes, the municipalities that come out best are Sierra de Yeguas and Torremolinos, where barely 0.1 per cent of families are without a high-speed connection or only have one operator available for access to broadband Internet.

And with regard to the parts of Malaga which lack a fast connection, Mari Montes concludes from her own experience of Montejaque: "If we want to stop depopulation we have to have good connections, and not just by road but also by Internet, because that is an essential service nowadays and not having it doesn't just affect your present, it also mortgages your future and that of all these villages," she says.

"We are still living back in the 20th century here in Benaoján," says the mayor, Soraya García, about the delay residents and businesses in this village in the Serranía de Ronda have suffered for years with regard to broadband internet. In fact, Benaoján represents the biggest black hole in the network in Malaga province, because practically every building (97.9 per cent) in the municipality lacks an effective Internet connection.

Paradoxically, the infrastructure has been ready for months, waiting for an agreement between the operators which will enable the wiring to be installed and, therefore, bringing this beautiful part of the province into the 21st century.

Help is at hand, however, although it will take a while. The government has plans to provide broadband to the whole of Malaga province within two years and it has just taken a crucial step towards that by awarding the contract to Avatel Telecom to carry out the works, for 7,221,670 euros. This is part of a programme with an overall budget of 9,027,088 euros, which will bring broadband to 37,938 points in the province, and the successful bidders have until the end of 2023 to complete the project.

Great relief

When fibre optic internet connections finally reached villages such as Benaoján, Carratraca, Montejaque, Almogía, Istán, Frigiliana and Canillas de Aceituno in Malaga province, where more than half of the population lack this facility, it will come as a great relief. Many are already suffering from depopulation and the ability to connect easily to the internet from home and business premises will help to counteract that.