Benjamí Villoslada: "We want to turn the Balearic Islands into a paradise of sun and data"

The director general of the island government's Technological Development department has a plan to "attract the best engineers and companies"

When Benjamí Villoslada was managing Menéame and working from Barcelona, the fibre-optic internet connection let him work problem-free. He could synchronise the data on his laptop with the cloud -and those of his partner and everyone in his father-in-law's law office- without having to worry too much. "The problem arose when I went to Lloseta, in Mallorca, on the weekends to see my son, then I had to stop syncing because otherwise he could not watch The Big Bang Theory, as the video would cut out," says the current director general of the Balearic Island government's Technological Development department. Villoslada has an ambitious project: "We want to turn the Balearic Islands into a paradise of sun and data."

The Balearic Islands have less than the average speed coverage according to the industry ministry...
Yes. And we are also the ones who take on the most broadband, but its implementation has slowed down a lot in the past few years. In fact, the statistics from the Secretary of State of Telecommunications and the Information Society says that bandwidth coverage higher than 30 Mbps in the Balearic Islands in 2012 was 53.7%, in 2013 it went down to 53.1%, in 2014 it reached 50.3%, last year it went down again to 49.4% and this year stands at 65%.

That is in Mallorca, because in Formentera there are cuts all the time and in Menorca when a lot of people arrive in the summer the internet is overloaded.
It is very difficult. The Islands have the extra problem of isolation. In Formentera, for example, because of the number of inhabitants, it makes it difficult for operators to get the most out of the infrastructure. In Pitiüses, mobile telephone pays for itself, because the tourists with great spending power who come on their yachts spend a lot of money on roaming. That means there is good coverage. But for the residents the connection is not so good. If it is not subsidised, then there is nothing to be done. That's why the first thing we did when we came into government was to apply for the Feder fund -we got 7.75 million euros, of which we have to put in half and Europe the other half- and this will fund projects for telecommunications companies.

And what is the intention?
The intention is for there to be fiber-optics down to the last corner. Here, for example, we cannot make planes, but here people who design them could work. We have good connections and in two hours you can be anywhere in Europe by plane. We cannot produce Airbus parts here, but we are well-connected, and the people who design them could come to the Islands to do their work. And that would create a new type of economy. Moreover, we are well located in the world and we have a great climate.

Yet the technology companies are in places like Germany and Ireland, where the weather is bad.
The current director of IB3, Joan Carles Martorell, worked in Apple. He wore glasses and he says that the first summer he came back to Mallorca he had an eye operation, because in Ireland it rains all year round and his glasses were always wet. The climate is a very important matter and we would like it to be a factor in attracting talent. If the tourists who come for sun and sand see that the communications are good, we would like them to become residents of sun and data. We want to turn the Balearic Islands into a paradise of sun and data.

How do you turn the Balearic Islands into a paradise of sun and data?
We already have some large companies that have set up here and others coming out of the Parc Bit. These companies have to pay good wages and keep hold of their employees. And for that we need infrastructure.

That would require a lot of public-private cooperation.
Yes. And that is why the numbers have to work out. For example, the company Balalink installed a cable from Valencia to Palma that passed through Eivissa so that it made financial sense. However, in Menorca, for its stable population and the type of middle class family tourism it has, it is not profitable to install such infrastructure. And no operator is interested in laying a cable. One company came to see me to ask for money to run a cable to Menorca because the numbers did not work out.

And Telefónica?
Telefónica yes, because it is half-obliged to do so. In fact, it laid a second cable as a backup, because if the only cable there is gets cut, it could take more than a week to fix the problem -and with a six zero bill. And we cannot afford to be disconnected, which is why we need more cables. We are waiting on a study that will tell us what the option is for laying a new cable, most probably from Marseille in France. Our aim has to be minimum latency (the time it takes for the data to cover the distance) through data centers in large tech companies in the Netherlands, Ireland or Germany.

But that is not enough...
The other question is to make a neutral point here for all the communications done on the islands, whichever operator it might be. If we want to companies to come and set up their data centers here and if we do not have a neutral point, it is like asking industry to come and not providing an industrial estate. It is infrastructure that attracts, it is like a roundabout of telecommunications. Let's imagine that the communications of a company that operates with Vodafone go to England so that they can connect with the company next to them that operates with Telefónica. A neutral point would reduce this problem a lot.

And how long would it take to do all this?
Things go very slowly for governments. Studies, contests, adjudication, resources, etc. We hope that by the end of the term we can set up a data center (the neutral point) and if there are companies with a viability plan and money from the European Fund for Strategic Investments of the European Investment Bank, then also the cable. There are companies interested and we like that, because there are people who believe in our sun and data project.

Do you aim to change the economic model based on tourism? Because you would make powerful enemies...
Not at all, it is an extra. It would solve our problem: the pressure of limited space and the seasonal element.

I understand that this summer there was a record number of flights to Son Sant Joan: 1054 flights in 24 hours. There is a lot of connections but only on one side of things.
It is madness. It amazes me that we are arguing over 30 million euros for a cable that would improve the lives of many people, when one of those planes is worth 90 million dollars. Can't we spend the third of the cost of a plane in bringing data to make jobs as an investment in the country? A kilometre of the AVE from Madrid to Extremadura costs 18 million euros. There are a lot of kilometres from Madrid to Caceres and they are the same inhabitants as on the islands. We also pay and yet will never get that. With a third of what a kilometre of the AVE to Extremadura costs, the Islands could have a state-of-the-art data center to attract the best engineers and companies.
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