Venice will become the first city in the world to provide newborn residents with free Internet access, a spokeswoman for the city council said Friday.
Newborns will receive a user ID and password entitling them to free Internet access at the same time as they get their birth certificate, the spokeswoman said.
"The resident's new digital identity will give free access to the Web, because we consider that's an important universal right," said Michele Vianello, Venice's deputy mayor, who has responsibility for automation processes.
The city will incorporate security and authentication technologies into the resident's digital identity as soon as a reliable system becomes available, Vianello said in a telephone interview. "That technology is not yet there, but as soon as it is, Venice intends to be the first to deploy it," he said.
The cabling of the city for broadband Internet is expected to be completed by the middle of next year. Forty-six miles of fiber-optic cable are being laid and there will be 600 Wi-Fi hotspots providing free access to the Web for local residents, the council spokeswoman said.
The city has asked young people aged between 14 and 25 to contact local authorities via the Venice municipal Web site site to express their preferences for the geographic locations of the hotspots.
"We could have decided on our own, but we preferred to ask young people where they wanted the hotspots, because we wanted to give a real sense of the democracy that comes with the Web," Vianello said.
The announcement came as the city suffered its worst floods for 22 years, with residents and visitors wading through waist-high water and a professional wakeboarder being filmed as he surfed across St. Mark's Square.
Far from being a condemned city, though, Venice was investing in its future, the deputy mayor said.
"Reports on the floods have been over-emphasized. This is nothing like New Orleans. It's an inconvenience, but nothing more," Vianello said. "Venice is not a dying city, quite the opposite. We're investing in the future and not at all fatalistic about it, as you can see."