Fiber optics, the Italian industry cornered by Asian undercosting

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The Italian fiber optic industry is succumbing to the weight of Asian competition. The standard fiber (A1) that comes from China and India can reach up to a third of the cost of the Premium (A2), the one that is produced in Italy at Fos (Southern optical fibres, Prysmian group) in Battipaglia. Even if it does not guarantee the same durability over time, in the Italian government tenders there are no technical specifications that force the use of A2. And the providers who win the tenders can thus install the Asian standard. However, there are those who are starting to worry about the expensive maintenance work, because every replacement means opening a construction site and breaking up roads and sidewalks.

The mayors of Campania

A movement of mayors is starting from Salerno who say no to Asian fiber optics and who intend to advocate their position to the ANCI, the national association of Italian municipalities. They met in an open municipal council in which 10 mayors of the Piana del Sele district participated. Among them there was also Cecilia Francese, in her second term at the helm of the municipality of Battipaglia where she was elected with a civic list. Her daily life involves the 50,000 inhabitants of the Campania town and the employment vulnerability of the area. What worries her more every day, in addition to the maintenance work, is also the Fos, the jewel of the local industry which has ended up on a sloping ridge, in a manner that is increasingly less favorable to the continuation of the activity. Orders are at their lowest, we are working at a quarter of production capacity, just for the warehouse.

The crisis at the Battipaglia Fos site

The site was – and still is – a flagship in the production of standard and premium (A2) optical fiber, both for the technological level of the production plant and for the quality it is able to guarantee. After planning 70 million euros of investments, of which only 30 were realised, since last October Prysmian has started an ordinary 25% rotating redundancy fund for its 300 workers. Having completed the first 13 weeks with the agreement with the union, the company decided to ask for another 13 at the beginning of January, without the union agreement. The fear of unions and institutions in the area is that from the ordinary fund we will move to the extraordinary one due to termination. The future of the Fos is in fact hanging on the optical fiber with which our country is cabled, also thanks to the Pnrr projects. Kilometers upon kilometers of cables where a double issue is intertwined: national and strategic because they transmit the gold of contemporaneity, i.e. data, but also industrial because the country’s choices impact a strategic industry. This is how the story of Fos also came under the spotlight of the Minister of Business and Made in Italy, Adolfo Urso, who met with company representatives in recent days. And he has called a meeting with the social partners for February 15th.

The absence of technical specifications in the notices

One word weighs above all in this story: specifications. Those that are missing in the government tenders on digitalisation, already awarded but not yet implemented, which do not include qualitative technical specifications. «The providers in charge of laying the fiber and winning the tenders can thus install Asian optical fibre, coming mainly from India and China, which has a much lower cost, up to a third, but which does not guarantee quality standards comparable to premium fibre. which is produced by Fos which is the only site in Europe to guarantee premium fiber (A2) of the highest level”, explains Elena Petrosino, national secretary of Filctem Cgil.

The arrival of Asian fiber

The beginning of the company’s real crisis occurred in the second half of the last decade, when the European market was flooded with low-quality fiber of Asian and Chinese origin sold at lower prices, also thanks to the cost of raw materials , lowest energy and work. In addition to public incentives for producers from governments such as the Chinese one. «There is an employment issue to be resolved, but there is also an issue of short-sightedness with respect to a strategic asset. In fact, premium fiber has a different efficiency compared to cyberattacks: a real intelligence issue arises around the Fos”, states Petrosino. And at a cost, or rather below cost, unsustainable.

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