Telecom Italia SpA today announced the launch of a new Internet service that will include the supply of an entry-level PC already configured to operate through the company's Tin.it access provider.
The service, due to start in December, is part of a strategy intended to break down existing barriers to use of the Internet, Telecom Italia Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Roberto Colaninno told a press conference in Milan, Italy.
"This is an important operation for the impact it will have on the country, on culture and on the young," Colaninno told reporters. "It's unthinkable that Italian families and businesses should live without the Internet, even though access is still constrained by a number of barriers such as the high cost of hardware, the low penetration of PCs, the lack of knowledge of English and an education system that is not geared to the use of technology."
Telecom Italia will also promote Internet access through its successful cellular phone operator Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM) SpA, which today announced it had achieved a customer base of more than 17 million. From November TIMclients will be able to use a single number to send and receive e-mail and faxes, to navigate the Web and for voice communications and short message service (SMS), the company said.
The new service will give almost a third of Italians -- the number of TIM's clients -- the ability to use mobile telephony, message services and e-mail, as well as the Internet, according to a Telecom Italia statement.
The easy Internet initiative could be a boon for OP Computers SpA, the former PC division of Olivetti SpA that is now in bankruptcy.
"Through this new initiative, Telecom will be able to order hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of simplified Internet PCs," Colaninno said. "We will not participate directly in any way in the production of the personal computers, but we would like OP Computers to benefit from preferential treatment, along with other companies such as Lexikon."
Roberto Mastropasqua, an analyst for International Data Corp. Italia in Milan, welcomed the Telecom Italia initiatives and noted that the free PCs will be fitted with a smart-card reader for electronic commerce. "E-commerce is in its infancy in Italy, but this is a step in the right direction. This will help to remove the barriers to Internet use, but there are other obstacles of an economic and cultural nature."
Mastropasqua also approved of the integration of mobile services with Internet and suggested Italy's dynamic cellular market could give a boost to the sluggish Internet sector. IDC predicts there will be 27 million mobile phones in Italy by the end of the year, two thirds of them operated by TIM, he said. The arrival of WebTV, screenphones and other information appliances will all stimulate the Internet sector in coming months, he predicted.
"Everything conspires to reduce the cost and make popular a service that currently is not. Telecom Italia is going in the right direction: bringing new people onto the Web," the analyst said.
Telecom Italia can be contacted in Rome at +39-06-3688-2907 or on the Web at http://www.telecomitalia.it/.