EU broadband penetration up 16%

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BRUSSELS -- Broadband penetration in the European Union rose 16% in the last six-month period measured, with some 84 million homes connected to the Internet via high-speed broadband, according to figures released Wednesday.

European broadband adoption in the EU for the six months running through March stood at 19.9%, compared with the U.S. at 19.6% and Japan at 20.2%, figures from the European Competitive Telecommunications Assn. showed.

Eight EU countries now have broadband penetration levels greater than 20% and northern Europe leads the way, with the Netherlands having the highest penetration at 33%, followed by Denmark, Finland and Sweden.

The ECTA, which groups new telecoms operators and ISPs that compete with former phone monopolies or incumbants, said the recent surge in connections was due to increased competition among broadband services.

"Success in many of the high-ranking countries in Europe can be attributed partly to local loop unbundling, the process whereby competitors rent the last mile from the national telecoms and offer their own broadband services to consumers," ECTA chairman Innocenzo Genna said.

But the ECTA pointed out that 90% of voice calls in the EU and 80% of broadband Internet traffic traveled at least in part over networks of former monopolies. It called for more access for newcomers to incumbents' networks.

The ECTA said that the 27-nation EU should give national regulators the right to impose a split between the networks and services divisions of operators when necessary to increase competition. It said the impact was particularly pronounced in the U.K., where the introduction of functional separation in January 2006 led to a quadrupling in the number of unbundled lines within a year and an explosion of triple-play offers including telephone services and TV. By contrast, middle and low ranking broadband countries typically have minimal or no unbundling.

In November, the European Commission is scheduled to propose giving national regulators the authority to force former monopolies to legally separate from their physical transmission networks in order to give competitors equal access as a remedy for persistent competition problems. "We believe it would be beneficial in most cases," ECTA said in its report.
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