Broadband Abroad: A Firsthand Perspective

I’m actually in Europe these days – you may have noticed that I’ve been typing with an accent. I’m fortunate in that I have a job that I can do almost entirely online – and occasionally I like to test that theory. Unfortunately, getting online has not been as easy as I anticipated.

My unintended time off the grid started when the apartment we rented in Rome was not connected – despite having advertised broadband access. But once you’re there you’re kind of captive. But all was not lost I happened to notice free community wifi signs in the Piazza.

Well I’m not quite sure what happened there. I could see the network from my computer – but could not connect. Or rather I could connect but not get online. The day after we arrived, they actually took down the sign. But the funny thing was that those signs were all over town and I wasn’t successfully connected once – not from my phone, ipad or computer!

One note for anyone who has hotspots for tourists in their town – multilingual login pages would be helpful if you get/want International visitors. Also if you want o make sure tourists are informed and use web sites for more info – it makes sense to make sure they have some free, public access in central locations.

I did find that some restaurants had wifi – but few advertised it, all of the networks were password protested and not all networks were created equal. Eventually we found an Irish pub with a decent connection. But even travelling with in-laws from Dublin you only want to spend so much time in the Irish Pub in Rome.

Our next pitstop was France. We whisked through Paris pretty quickly. Issy-les-Moulineaux, France has made the Intelligent Community Forum Top Seven for several years – but the train doesn’t stop there. I tried periodically to find an open network in Paris – but no luck. (In fairness we were in Paris for about 5 hours so the problem may have been me.)

Next stop London – via chunnel. I was a little surprised that there was no wifi on the train – it’s very much a commuter option. But I was delighted to see that the station (St Pancras) where we landed had free wifi advertised and available. Also wifi available at our rental apartment, as advertised and free wifi signs in pubs across the city. I don’t know how much of the wifi availability was around a year ago and how much they are ramping up for the Olympics next year – but London is a good place to get online.

Final stop Dublin – again via train and boat. There was wifi available on the train for a modest fee; same with the boat. Part of the ease of connecting in Dublin is that it’s a home away from home so I know where to go – but there is connectivity in the libraries and in several of the pubs. It is cheaper here. We reinstated our 8 Mbps connection at the house here for €6 per month – that’s about $10.

One of the nice things about traveling is that you get to see what’s normal in other places. Broadband is normal – but community access is not created equal. The US appears to offer better options than Rome – but I wouldn’t say we’re ahead of Dublin or London. The other things here is the advanced use of cell phone (or mobile) but I thought I might write about that another time.

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About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

6 thoughts on “Broadband Abroad: A Firsthand Perspective

  1. My recent experience confirms exactly what you describe, Ann (with the exception of London and the Chunnel trip which I did not make). McDonalds was my hotspot-hangout in my brief 2nd stay in Paris. It was quite good at a moment when I really needed it. There were also plentiful Computer Cafe type places near the train station. The boat from France to Ireland was supposed to have a connection which I paid for but they simply said, “I guess its not working” and refunded the dough.

    The cities and suburbs (here in the U.S.) vary pretty substantially, too. Some municipalities are making a commitment to it and others are tossing connectivity into the Hunker-down-for-now bucket waiting for economic change.

    The Pew folks have an interesting paper that if you haven’t seen, you may be interested in as well at

    Enjoy your time there. will have a new tour guide product available before Christmas that may interest you, too. I’m helping Greg Pulles publish a companion piece for his amazing coffee table book about the history, art and architecture of the 60 most important churches in Rome. Stay tuned for that!

  2. 10 years ago I noticed that Internet cafes were pretty rare in Rome while they were all over the place in Florence. When I asked a guy running one of them why that was so, he said, “It’s because in Florence we are thinking people. In Rome they are eating people.”

    Sometimes you just have to surrender to reality and enjoy the pasta.

    Dave P.

  3. Dave,

    In the end I did surrender. I was offline for more than 24 hours in a row. Something that hasn’t happened in 7 years when my last kid was born (and only because the hospital didn’t have wifi). And I am pleased to report that the Internet did not shut down despite my absence and we had a great time.

    Thx! Ann

  4. Ann,
    Interested in your comment about the advanced use of cell phones. That was my last experience too (in Germany and Austria) where connectivity was easier by phone (but get a plan that manages roaming charges).


  5. Milda – Interesting to hear that advanced use is Europe-wide.

    I haven’t been using it much this summer – but I remember from last year that mobile broadband for my laptop was easier too – and that’s where I had to watch roaming or at least pay attention to when I was in Ireland vs Northern Ireland.

    Thx! Ann

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