EU eyes solutions to broadband gap

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BRUSSELS -- Special measures will be unveiled in November in a bid to close the gap between the European Union's strongest and weakest broadband performers. The move follows the release of new data that shows a 30% difference between leader Denmark and last-place Bulgaria.

EU Media and Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding said the data suggests a "two-speed Europe" when it comes to broadband, and she pledged that specific plans to boost broadband will be included in the commission's telecoms and cable package next month.

Weak competition and sloppy regulation were cited as the chief obstacles to broadband growth. A lack of "significant alternative infrastructures" in some EU member states is one issue, as is the "need for a more consistent and speedy application of existing remedies," the commission added in its report.

Although Reding did not give details of her plans, she promised to do more to stimulate investment to ensure consistent growth across the EU. Officials said the commission is considering enforced broadband price cuts to stimulate demand, a measure that would echo Reding's initiative this summer when she forced mobile phone operators to slash the price of calls made from abroad.

While some countries are leading the world in broadband performance, others are lagging far behind, Reding said. "Broadband growth remains strong. However, it is unacceptable that the gap between the strongest and weakest performers in Europe is growing," she said.

Commission data revealed that, as of July 1, broadband penetration in Denmark was the highest in the EU, at 37.2%. But the weakest performer, Bulgaria, was at only 5.7%. Average penetration rose from 14.9% to 18.2% in the EU over the past year. By July, there were more than 90 million fixed broadband lines in the EU's member states, of which some 20 million lines were added since July 2006, an increase of 28.7%.

DSL remains the EU's main broadband technology, with some 72.5 million lines. However, DSL growth has slowed by 6.1% compared to July 2006, while alternative technologies such as cable, fiber to the home and wireless local loops are more widely used, totaling some 17.7 million lines.

The broadband plans will be part of the commission's package, due to be published Nov. 13, which calls for an overhaul of EU telecom and cable rules and would allow regulators to split the services and network arms of telecom companies.
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