The European Commission has an ambitious target for internet access: it wants to see every European citizen online by 2020.
It is making some progress. The share of European households with a broadband connection has doubled since 2006 to 61%, according to a report released in December by Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office. Some European countries are even outstripping the United States in terms of broadband take-up.
But in terms of broadband speeds, Europe still lags behind Asian countries, particularly Japan and South Korea. In July, just 29% of EU broadband lines carried 10 megabytes per second, and only 5% of lines averaged 30Mbps. The Commission is aiming for all broadband connections delivering at least 30Mbps by 2020, with half of European households enjoying speeds of above 100Mbps.
Plans to boost connection speeds focus on fibre-based next-generation networks. Currently, only 1% of Europeans have a high-speed fibre internet connection at home, compared to 12% of Japanese and 15% of South Koreans. But over the past six years, the Commission has adopted more than 40 decisions on state-aid provision to broadband infrastructure.
The aim is to link remote rural areas to the main fibre-optic network to give them access to high-speed internet, despite the lack of commercial incentives to build these links, as the so-called ‘last mile’ – the connection into the customer’s home or office – is often not profitable enough.
However, an estimated 20 million Europeans still live in ‘not-spots’ (mainly in rural or mountainous areas) where an acceptable broadband connection is impossible. Not-for-profit organisations are therefore being encouraged to apply for support to construct and manage regional fibre-optic networks, on condition that they offer the same terms and conditions to all telecommunication operators using the infrastructure.
Alongside the growing fibre-optic network, and other commercial initiatives to speed up delivery along the older copper cable, the Commission also wants to reassign radio frequencies for faster wireless services, in particular the 800MHz band that has been freed up by the switch from analogue to digital television broadcasting.
Business is doing its bit as well. In the last months of 2010, two European satellites dedicated to delivering broadband internet connections were launched. The Ka-Sat and the Hylas satellites will use ‘spot beams’ to target areas that do not already have internet.
The Ka-band payload provides coverage of selected parts of Europe where the greatest opportunities exist for broadband service provision via satellite. Ka-Sat has a notional capacity to serve up to two million households, while Hylas has a more modest 300,000 capacity. Both are due to begin operating in the second quarter of 2011.
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