Teleworking became a lifeline for the working world during the coronavirus lockdown and the subsequent periods of restricted mobility. It has also changed the outlook for sparsely populated swathes of rural Spain, known popularly as la España vacía or “empty Spain.”
Remote workers need a good internet connection and cellphone coverage, requirements that have traditionally been harder to meet in the more-remote, less-populated locations. However, municipalities that have prioritized online connectivity have managed to attract a number of teleworkers over the past year. Now, some of the remotest corners of Spain boast a fiber optic high-speed connection for each home as well as 5G coverage, a luxury that the vast majority of European capitals would give anything for.
Here is a list of the 15 best-connected villages of fewer than 2,000 inhabitants in Spain, according to telecommunications company Telefónica: Fresno de Sayago (Zamora), 170 residents; Atrenzana de Abajo (La Rioja), 230 residents; Casas de Don Gómez (Cáceres), 289 residents; Anguciana (La Rioja), 433 residents; Táliga (Badajoz), 665 residents; San Esteban del Valle (Ávila), 720 residents; Campezo (Álava) 1,040 residents; Ainzon (Zaragoza), 1,077 residents; Valverde del Majano (Segovia), 1,095 residents; Casalarreina (La Rioja), 1,098 residents; Agoncillo (La Rioja), 1,102 residents; Santa María de la Alameda (Madrid), 1,254 residents; Labastida (Álava) ,1,454 residents; Arcos (Burgos), 1,734 residents and Buitrago de Lozoya (Madrid), 1,884 residents.
Thanks to their high-speed connection, the residents of Táliga (Badajoz), a town of fewer than 700 inhabitants, can now manage their prescriptions online, as well as their doctor’s appointments or paperwork from the healthcare center, the school or the town hall. Like Táliga, a number of Spain’s small towns have better cellphone coverage, fiber connectivity and even 5G than those in other European countries such as Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom and Poland, according to data from FTTH Council Europe.
“The most important thing is that good internet coverage allows us to work from home and do many things that used to take us twice as long, as they could only be done by phone or in person,” says Vicente Mateos, mayor of Casas de Don Gómez.
A high-speed connection has also been a godsend for Edorta Loma, who returned two years ago to his hometown of Santa Cruz de Campezo, a village of just over 1,000 inhabitants in the mountains of Álava in the Basque Country, to open Arrea, a restaurant focusing on local ingredients.
As connectivity improved last year, Spain witnessed a growing trend of city-based dwellers moving to their second homes in more rural areas, and a far more extensive use of residential internet connections due to the boom in both telestudy and teleworking. According to Telefónica data, traffic in Movistar’s IP network between January and December 2020 increased by 25%.
In Buitrago de Lozoya in the Madrid region, meanwhile, online traffic grew by 167% between January 2020 and March 2021. And in the villages of Anguciana and Casalarreina, located in one of the first municipalities of La Rioja to install fiber optic connectivity for its entire network, usage was recorded as well above normal, due in part to the influx of second-home owners from the nearby Basque Country.
The 5G challenge
Cellphones also play a decisive role because thanks to the new generation of mobile networking, 5G, mobile internet coverage is now comparable to the fixed broadband network.
This is the ranking of small towns with the best 5G connections: Hoz de Jaca (Huesca), 71 residents; Navatejares (Ávila), 80; Riu de Cerdanya (Lleida), 111; Prádena de Rincón (Madrid), 127; San Miguel de Aguayo (Cantabria), 159; Sojuela (La Rioja), 227; Peraleda de San Román (Cáceres), 283; Arrieta (Vizcaya), 558; Ciruelos (Toledo), 679; and Monteagudo (Navarre), 1,145 inhabitants.
“Network expansion planning takes into account certain traffic patterns that are repeated every year,” says Javier Gutiérrez, director of Network Strategy and Development at Telefónica Spain. “In 2020, these patterns departed from the norm due to Covid-19 and there were unusual increases in both voice and data usage.”
In September 2020, all four national operators in Spain – Telefónica, Orange, Vodafone and MásMóvil – launched their first commercial 5G services, but only in the largest cities, with reduced coverage (under 30% of the population) and with very limited technical capacities.
Internet connections using 5G will be 100 times faster than today’s (although right now the technology is only achieving average speeds of 10 times 4G). This means that data downloads will be even faster than with today’s fiber optic networks. To take an example, a 1GB movie will download in under 10 seconds.
English version by Heather Galloway.