Brussels, 22 April 2004
Electronic communications: EU ministers take stock of progress in stimulating demand for higher speed Internet connections ("broadband")
Fresh impetus for the drive to roll out high-speed broadband connections, and boost the quality of the content and services they carry to businesses and citizens across Europe, should come from a Ministerial Conference held by the EU's Irish Presidency in Dundalk today. Developing content and services to stimulate the take-up of broadband connections is viewed as vital to the take-up of information and communication technology, and hence to competitiveness and productivity growth, across the EU. A little over a year after the first EU-level discussions on broadband issues, Member States will compare progress in rolling out broadband networks at home. They will also discuss issues hampering the development of innovative content with CEOs spanning the broadband value chain across Europe.
"Widespread broadband access and use are central to economic growth" said Enterprise and Information Society Commissioner, Erkki Liikanen. "It opens the door to an information society in which everyone can participate. Broadband use is growing rapidly, but it is fastest in those areas were competition is well established. To capitalise on these developments, all Member States have now tabled national broadband strategies. The commitment to accelerating availability and take-up is remarkable. Now it's time to deliver. I welcome this initiative of Prime Minister Ahern to allow us to share our experience, learn from each other and give impetus to the efforts underway."
Member States committed themselves to draw up national broadband strategies at the March 2003 European Council, after a Commission workshop (the "Broadband Day") revealed little common knowledge of what Member States were doing in the area of broadband. Today those strategies are in place and the Commission will be reporting later this Spring on the common ground and differences between national approaches.
Governments worldwide are increasingly realising that high speed internet access is a key factor for future economic performance. Broadband enables the delivery of new, more sophisticated services, better tailored to the needs of individual businesses and citizens. It offers the possibility of significant productivity improvements, particularly if accompanied by a re-organisation of the way businesses or administrations work or the re-engineering of production processes. All of these developments bring significant benefits which should stimulate growth and improve living standards.
Broadband take-up has been growing fast in the past eighteen months. The EU average take-up rate has grown by 150% in twelve months, so that by January 2004 6.1% of the EU population used a broadband connection, although growth so far has mainly concentrated in urban areas and the performance in different Member States is still quite varied depending on factors, such as geographical features, population density, coverage of cable TV networks, and degree of competition.
Competitive broadband markets are set to grow faster. Facility-based competition and open access provisions on incumbents' networks deliver benefits in terms of the price/performance ratio and increased diversity of choice for consumers. These principles have been embedded in the new regulatory framework for electronic communications, and recent developments corroborate these views.
But competition is not enough. The availability of advanced and innovative content, applications and services is essential to stimulating take-up. For this reason, CEOs representing the broadband value chain will meet ministers and present their views on the bottlenecks that hamper the development of new content and of new business models.