Sixty four million people now have broadband access across the 25 countries of the European Union – but the gap between the best and worst performers is widening, according to the latest Broadband Scorecard, published last week by the European Competitive Telecommunications Association (ECTA). Overall penetration of 14.1% is up by 5.5 million lines, an increase of 9% over the previous quarter.
The overall picture hides huge discrepancies. Denmark tops the league with broadband penetration of nearly 30%, while worst placed Greece trails far behind at just 2%. The poorly scoring countries are not growing quickly enough to catch up, which is creating a widening gulf between connected and unconnected countries.
Steen Clausen, Managing Director of ECTA, the pro-competitive body, said, “People often like to make comparisons between broadband take-up in the EU, US and Japan, but actually the divergence within Europe itself is even greater. We don’t have to cross continents to see how best to boost Europe’s broadband. The answer is right in front of us. Countries that are performing relatively well, such as Denmark and the UK, have taken action to ensure there is choice and competition, while broadband access in laggard countries such as Greece and Ireland is still to a large extent dominated by the former state-owned incumbents.”
The effects of competition can be seen very clearly in countries which have worked to deliver effective access to the local loop and wholesale broadband products. A good example is the UK, which gained 15% broadband subscribers over the quarter, stimulated by a range of new competitive offers, which only emerged following action by the regulator to improve access conditions for competitors. Likewise, broadband in France was stagnating until regulatory action paved the way for competition – triple-play packages are available now for less than €30 per month.
Clausen continued, “Again and again we see a clear link between regulatory action and the variety and value of broadband offers in the market. And when the services are there, consumers respond. But we see that for far too many consumers their only choice is to take it or leave it, assuming of course that broadband is available where they live. This is dragging Europe down.”
The European Regulators Group meeting in October, attended by the Heads of all 25 EU Regulators, will discuss proposals to identify best practice to harmonise regulation across Europe.
Clausen continued, “We are calling on the European Regulators Group to commit to delivering a coherent application of regulation across Europe to address the clear gap between Europe’s best and worst broadband performers. They have a real opportunity to deliver a result that will benefit Europe’s consumers and economy.”