Reding: EU has b'band work cut out

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BRUSSELS -- Europe is still lagging in the broadband realm, EU Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding said Wednesday as she unveiled figures revealing that 19 of the EU's 27 member states trail the U.S. in broadband use.

The rollout of new broadband-linked services such as mobile broadcasting and online films is being held back by former state-owned telecoms monopolies who have no competitors and no incentives to offer more to their customers, Reding said.

"Incumbent operators hold more than 46% of broadband lines and in seven member states control more than 60% of broadband connections," she said.

Reding said that the figures -- contained in the EU's annual report on the state of telecoms -- show a massive overhaul of telecoms rules is needed. Her own reform plans, unveiled last November, aim to spur competition between operators and drive down the costs that have thus far hampered new broadcasting opportunities.

Reding set an average EU broadband penetration target of 30% by 2010, up from the 20% figure reached by the end of 2007, and 16.2% the year before. By contrast, the U.S. has a broadband penetration average of 22.1%

The report's figures show that Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden have broadband penetration rates of greater than 30%. Some 19 million broadband lines were added in the EU in 2007, the equivalent of more than 50,000 households every day. Overall, the EU's 300 billion euros ($470 billion) telecoms market -- worth 2% of EU GDP -- grew 1.9% last year.
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