November 13th marks a day that both communications providers and telecoms regulators across Europe may be dreading or may welcome with open arms. This date is when a proposed new set of telecoms rules are likely to be presented by the EU telecoms regulator with a view to reducing the digital divide across Europe.
Broadband growth remains strong with the top EU countries now world leaders in broadband penetration. However, it is unacceptable that the gap between the strongest and weakest performers in Europe is growing. Europe must act now to get its broadband house in order. I will make specific proposals on this as part of our package of reforms for the EU Telecom Rules on 13 November.Viviane Reding, EU Telecoms Commissioner
The variation in broadband penetration across the EU ranges from 5.7% in Bulgaria right up to 37.2% in Denmark. The UK sits at 23.8% in seventh place, above France at 22.3% and just below Belgium at 23.9%. The full figures can be downloaded in PDF document on Europa.eu by following the appropriate link (the HTML page is missing the data tables). A more detailed document on broadband across Europe is the Broadband access in the EU: July 2007 document. This later document holds such gems as the UK had 23 million PSTN lines in July 2007, of which 687,707 were fully unbundled (MPF) and a further 1,735,860 used shared unbundling (SMPF).
The BT Group in the UK has a 54% share of all the retail and wholesale lines, with its retail arm holding a 25.7% share of the market according to the research. This compares to France where the incumbent has an almost identical retail (46.8%) to wholesale plus retail share (48.4%). The UK seems to be the only European country where the sale of wholesale services from the incumbent are vastly greater than its own retail provider. This could be interpreted several ways; perhaps BT Wholesale is priced attractively and thus keeping alternative network providers out of the market, or possibly the alternate providers in the UK are relying on BT Wholesale to provide national coverage only using their own network where it is more economic to do so.
In countries where the regulator is weak and has not got to grips with the incumbent operator, EU involvement will be welcomed. The downside is that a set of EU wide rules blindly implemented may not work well in all countries. This situation is not unlike the issues of ensuring the digital divide in the UK does not disadvantage people living outside the large cities. The economics and market for broadband is not uniform across the country, let alone across the European Union.