Page last updated at 10:51 GMT, Friday, 26 September 2008 11:51 UK

EU call for 'universal' broadband

A Trabant car in Romania, BBC
Regions of some European nations cannot currently get broadband

Brussels is considering making broadband access available for all.

The fast growth of broadband has led the European Commission to bring forward a review of the basic telecoms services Europeans can expect.

Current statistics suggest about 36% of households in EU member nations have high-speed net access.

When a majority of EU citizens are using a telecoms service, EC rules dictate that it becomes one every European should be able to enjoy.

Basic access

"High-speed internet is the passport to the Information Society and an essential condition for economic growth," said Viviane Reding, EU Telecoms Commissioner in a statement announcing the review.

"This is why it is this Commission's policy to make broadband internet for all Europeans happen by 2010."

The EC's Universal Service Obligations (USO) demand that all citizens who want them should be able to get access to basic telephone services.

It covers the production of a telephone directory, availability of payphones, specific measures for people with disabilities or those on low incomes and fixed phone access for local, national and international voice calls.

The obligations also include a clause demanding that the fixed line be of sufficient quality to "permit functional internet access". In the UK this has been interpreted to mean a line that can support a dial-up speed of 28.8 kilobits per second.

Ethernet cable, Eyewire

The EC reviews the USO every three years and in its report kicking off the latest overhaul, it said broadband was growing at a pace that would mean more Europeans were using it than not.

Figures from the EC suggest that from 2003-2007 broadband use in member nations tripled to 36% of households and had an annual growth rate of 20%.

Despite this, said the EC, there were "striking gaps" among member states and the coverage their citizens enjoyed.

In nations such as Denmark, Luxembourg and Belgium, 100% of the population can get broadband if they want it. By contrast, 60% of Romanians cannot get broadband access.

Even in nations such as Germany and Italy, which have booming broadband sectors, about 12% of the population is not covered by high-speed access.

The review aims to find out if the USO needs to be re-written to force telecoms firms to extend broadband to those areas competition will leave bereft of it.

It will also find out if a narrow-band access, aka dial-up, is sufficient to "permit functional internet access" or if the pace of change online means higher speeds are the minimum needed.

The EC is inviting submissions from telecoms firms, governments and citizens with the aim of producing a communique in 2009 and perhaps legislation in 2010.

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