Scandinavia shames UK in broadband league

Government attempts to build Broadband Britain are looking like a failure as other European countries trounce the UK in the high-speed Internet stakes

The UK is the sick man of Europe when it comes to high-speed Internet access -- the latest figures show that six times more home Internet users enjoy a broadband connection in Scandinavia than in Britain.

According to NetValue, Sweden and Denmark are the front-runners when it comes to broadband take-up in Europe. Almost 14 percent of Internet-connected Swedish households, and 13.2 percent of Web-connected homes in Denmark, have broadband connections. In contrast, in the UK the figure is a meagre 2.3 percent of Internet-connected households, or just 210,600 homes.

Germany, France, Spain and Norway all have a much greater percentage of their Net-connected households using broadband. Of the eight countries measured, only Italy was below Britain.

NetValue's research, which was carried out in August, also shows that the rollout of ADSL is still deeply disappointing. Only around 45,000 British homes have ADSL, compared to 155,000 homes that use cable for their high-speed Internet connection. In August, a total of 9.1m UK households were connected to the Internet.

The figures show that, while telecom companies claim that broadband is available to a large percentage of the population, the reality is that people aren't signing up for it in droves. BT says that ADSL is available to 13m homes, while ntl and Telewest -- which offer broadband through a cable modem -- think that 9m households could connect to their service.

NetValue has been monitoring this sector for the last two years, and it has found that the percentage of Internet-enabled households with broadband has hovered around the three percent mark for some time.

Alki Manias, vice-president of NetValue, agreed that many people are put off by the price of broadband, but suggested that telecom operators need to devote time and money to educating the public about the benefits of broadband. "We feel that many people simply don't understand the benefits of broadband. It could be that they would be prepared to pay for it if they knew how good it was," said Mania.

Currently, home ADSL from BT costs £40 per month, while ntl/Telewest's cable broadband costs around £25 per month.

The government has made the rollout of broadband services one of the lynchpins of its technology agenda. Last week, e-commerce minister Douglas Alexander urged BT to set "fair prices" for ADSL, for both its retail and wholesale divisions -- so that other ISPs could offer cheaper broadband.

In response, BT told ZDNet that it was already cutting prices, and that regulation meant it couldn't offer ADSL as cheaply as the cable companies.

The European Commission is already taking a keen interest in the rollout of broadband services. EC competition supremo Mario Monti said last month that some telecos were deliberately hampering the process of local-loop unbundling -- which allows rival operators to place their equipment in the local exchanges of an incumbent operator, such as BT. Local-loop unbundling should allow Internet service providers to offer broadband services without having to buy ADSL capacity of an incumbent operator.

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