The UK is falling behind in super- and ultra-fast broadband, with only one in a thousand fixed-line connections capable of delivering 100Mbps or faster, according to new figures.
The UK is lagging well behind other EU countries in uptake of 100Mbps and 30Mbps broadband, according to a study.
In addition, only two in a thousand British households have signed up for a 100Mbps service, the European Commission said in its Digital Agenda Scoreboard, published on Monday. The report looks at how well each member country is doing in meeting the 13 targets laid out in the EU's Digital Agenda, which covers areas such as broadband, mobile and e-commerce.
"In terms of the broadband speed targets set by the Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE), the UK has one of the smallest shares of lines within the EU at and above 100Mbps," the Commission said in the report. "The penetration of these lines in January 2012 was only 0.02 percent and below the EU average of 0.4 percent."
Even at lower speeds, the UK is lagging. Uptake of connections in the
30-100Mbps range was 1.7 percent, compared with 2.4 percent for the EU
as a whole. In addition, only 5.5 percent of fixed connections are able
to deliver those rates, the Commission said.
BT and Virgin Media, the two major super-fast broadband providers in the UK, are rolling out higher-speed broadband. BT's fibre-based Infinity service goes up to 76Mbps, whereas Virgin Media offers packages of up to 100Mbps, which it says are in reach of more than 10 million British homes. BT also has a 100Mbps package, but this is only available for 10 exchanges.
One bright spot in the report is at the next level down: 73 percent of fixed-line services in the UK deliver downloads at 10Mbps or faster, much higher than the general average of 48.4 percent, according to the study.
The Digital Agenda calls for half of households to have 100Mbps broadband by 2020, while all households should have 30Mbps coverage. The UK government has its own targets: download speeds of 25Mbps for 90 percent of households, and a minimum of 2Mbps coverage across the country, by 2015. The government has not said how it will harmonise its plans with the EU's Digital Agenda.
In other target areas, such as regular use of the internet, the UK did better than average but showed little sign of significant growth. In 2011, 81 percent of people went online at least once per week — an increase of only once percent over the previous year. Even so, this out-performed the EU average of 68 percent.
Conversely, the number of Britons who have never used the internet fell by two percent over the same period, to 11 percent. For all member states, the average is almost one-quarter.
Holding Europe back
Overall, the Scoreboard shows that businesses are failing to keep up with the digital demand coming from consumers, the Commission said. The failure to supply fast internet, online content, research and relevant skills is holding the region back from growth spurred by this demand, it said.
"Europeans are hungry for digital technologies and more digital choices, but governments and industry are not keeping up with them. This attachment to 20th-century policy mindsets and business models is hurting Europe's economy," Digital Agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes said in a statement. "It's a terrible shame. We are shooting ourselves in the foot by under-investing. Europe will be flattened by its global competitors if we continue to be complacent."
While the funding of ICT research and development is moving in the right direction, the EU has fallen behind the US, the Commission noted. More work needs to be done in this area, it added.
"While public research has been protected from austerity measures, spending is well below the six-percent annual growth needed to double public investment by 2020," it said in the report. "Commercial research investments are falling. The EU ICT sector now has less than half the R&D intensity of the US ICT sector."