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Brussels, 25 September 2008

Broadband Internet for all Europeans: Commission launches debate on future of universal service

How can the EU achieve that all Europeans – from the North of Finland to the South of Italy, from the Western Ireland to Eastern Romania – have access to broadband Internet? This is the main question raised in a Commission report today. From 2003-2007 broadband use in the EU tripled to 36% of households. However, 7% of the EU's population are still not connected (30% in rural areas). There are striking gaps in the EU: 100% of the population is covered in Denmark, Luxembourg and Belgium, but more than 60% in Romania (75% in rural areas) do not have broadband access. Even in strong economies such as Italy and Germany, 18% and 12% respectively of the rural population are not covered. With broadband increasingly important in daily life, policy tools like radio spectrum management and mobile satellite services should accompany a broad debate about the universal service in telecoms – a safety net guaranteeing a minimum level of services, such as connection to a phone network and basic Internet access, filling basic needs that the market does not.

"High-speed Internet is the passport to the Information Society and an essential condition for economic growth. This is why it is this Commission's policy to make broadband Internet for all Europeans happen by 2010", said EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding. "A lot has been achieved over the past four years, and new tools, such as Satellite Broadband, are well on track. It is also good news that the 8 best EU countries far outperform the US in broadband take up. But take up requires access, and is not there in parts of the EU. We need to combine all efforts to make sure that all citizens can get connected soon."

The Commission today published a report showing that competitive markets for broadband Internet are providing EU citizens widespread and affordable access. However, further efforts are needed to ensure Broadband for All. So far, the EU has stimulated broadband with the following 3 tools:

(1) Telecoms rules for more competition and investment. Europe has almost 100 million broadband lines in January 2008 and a growth rate of 20%, with 52,000 new lines connected daily in 2007 (IP/08/460). Last week, the Commission published further regulatory guidance on ensuring competition and investment for optical fibre networks (IP/08/1370).

(2) A new system to stimulate mobile satellite services, which can deliver broadband via satellite across the EU, was set up this summer. The European Parliament and the Council created a one-stop shop for authorising such services: instead of 27 procedures, mobile satellite operators now apply to the Commission (IP/08/1250).

(3) In November 2007, the Commission made proposals for reform of radio spectrum management to free resources for new wireless services (IP/07/1677), which were mostly endorsed by the European Parliament on 24 September (MEMO/08/581). If the Council also accept this new form of spectrum management, the Digital Dividend – extra radio spectrum available after the move from analogue to digital TV – can be used for new wireless broadband services, and not just new TV channels.

Today's Commission report asks if these measures are enough or should a new universal service obligation be considered.

The report also shows strong growth in the number of Europeans using a mobile phone. Since the present Commission took office, the level of mobile subscriptions has grown from 85% to 112%. "These figures are an important vote of confidence of mobile consumers in the health of Europe's mobile sector", says EU Commissioner Viviane Reding. "They show that at present, there is no need to impose universal service obligations on mobile operators – even though at least some of their lobbyists try to make us believe the contrary these days."


Under the EU’s Universal Service Directive of 2002, universal service means that citizens must be able to connect to the public phone network at a fixed location and access public phone services for voice and data communications with functional access to the Internet. The Directive also requires that consumers have access to directory enquiry services and directories, public payphones and special measures if they are disabled. The Commission reviews the scope of the Universal Service Directive every 3 years (IP/05/594, IP/06/488). Today's report invites Parliament, Council, national regulators, telecoms providers, consumer associations and citizens to contribute to a debate on achieving Broadband for All in the EU. These contributions will feed into a Commission Communication in the second half of 2009 and possibly legislative proposals in 2010.

The European Parliament yesterday voted in favour of Commission proposals to strengthen other users' rights ensured by the Directive: the efficiency of the single European emergency number 112, especially for people with disabilities; and the right to change a fixed or mobile operator within 1 day while keeping one's phone number.

Today's report on future of the universal service is available at:

to see MEMO/08/583


Figure 1: Fixed broadband network coverage in the EU as % of population

[ Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED ]

Source: IDATE

Figure 2: Broadband usage penetration per 100 inhabitants in the EU

[ Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED ]

Figure 3: Internet and broadband penetration at home, % of EU households

[ Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED ]

Source: E-communications household surveys

Figure 4: Mobile subscriber penetration in the EU

[ Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED ]

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