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A new report released reports that the incumbant telecom operators will control 80%  of the new / next  generation of broadband  and ECTA has urged  the European policy-makers to approve powers to encourage new competition 

The pro-competition body ECTA have called for stronger powers for regulators to implement competition rules, as it publishes the results of its twice-yearly survey on broadband take-up and competitiveness in Europe.

Innocenzo Genna, Chairman of ECTA said, “People often do not realise that the choice they have of broadband provider and speeds and prices available depends on how effectively the regulator has opened up the last mile of the network to competitors.

The survey shows that while one in five people (20%) in Europe now subscribe to a broadband connection, competitive impetus has reduced across Europe with a slow growth rate of 10% in broadband connections.  

The survey also reveals that there is a serious threat to the primary source of competition - local loop unbundling - as incumbents seek a moratorium on unbundling next generation fibre access lines.  

Policy-makers ignore this at their peril, because the choice we have today may be gone tomorrow if we do not act to keep telecoms markets open, and Europe’s competitiveness is at stake.” The European Competitive Telecommunications Association (ECTA), the organisation representing competitive providers, believes that the European telecoms market is reaching a critical stage as the existing legacy copper network is gradually replaced partly or wholly with next generation fibre lines.   

Currently the retail market share of incumbents remains high at close to 50% and if the moratorium is granted, ECTA predicts this could result in incumbent operators controlling a staggering 80% of broadband lines across Europe or even close to 100% in many countries. 


Figure 1:  Northern Europe maintains its lead in broadband penetration 

Innocenzo Genna continued, “Because fixed networks are particularly expensive to build it is not always economical to duplicate the last mile – the line going into each home – because it will push up the retail cost of broadband and may not be justifiable to financial investors.  Instead what we need is a mechanism to share bottleneck access infrastructure on an equal basis. Functional separation could be a way to enforce infrastructure sharing rules more effectively.” The survey reveals that countries with the highest broadband take-up including leaders Denmark and the Netherlands, as well as Sweden, Finland and the UK, have all benefited from competition through effective unbundling of the local loop. These countries are amongst the best broadband performers in the world today.  

Figure 2: Highest ranking countries typically have strong competition from both local loop unbundling (pink) and alternative infrastructures such as cable (yellow). Conversely lower ranking countries tend to have much less competition from unbundling. LLU progress has often preceded progression up the league table (eg for France and the UK), whilst concentration in markets (eg Netherlands following purchase by KPN of LLU operator Tiscali) has often been followed by slower growth.  

The worse performing countries include Italy and Poland, where the incumbent operator enjoys 64% and 59% of the retail market respectively. Broadband penetration levels in Italy grew at just 3% in the last 6 months and now ranks the lowest of largest EU economies. In Poland, penetration rates of 7% are less than half of the EU average and local loop unbundling – despite being ‘mandated’ for several years – remains elusive. Regulators in both countries are actively pursuing functional separation as a remedy for the incumbents’ dominance.  

Figure 3: Local loop unbundling accounts for 21% of competitive broadband lines across Europe, whilst cable and other infrastructures account for 17%. If local loop unbundling was phased out in the future, the market share of incumbents could exceed 80%.  

ECTA urges the European Parliament and Council to approve measures proposed by the European Commission in its Review of the Telecoms Framework, which would strengthen regulators’ powers to ensure effective sharing of telecom bottlenecks, which are critical in boosting Europe’s competitiveness. Functional separation is one tool that could be used to address enduring barriers to competition in the sector. In the UK, it has contributed to the unbundling of 4 million lines in just two years, a boost in infrastructure investment by competitors, lower prices and a dramatic increase in broadband speeds.   

Figure 4: Functional separation introduced in January 2006 helped to accelerate local loop unbundling in the UK – a requirement which was imposed in 1999 but remained ineffective for many years. Here the UK is compared with France – the leading unbundling country in Europe.   

Key findings of the report

  • Total broadband lines increased by 10% in the last six months from 84 million lines in Q1 2007 to 92 million lines in Q3 2007. Overall growth slowed from 16% in the previous 6 months
  • Northern European countries remain world-leaders in broadband with Denmark and the Netherlands reaching 35% penetration and Sweden, Finland, and UK all registering above 25% penetration. On the other end of the scale, penetration in Greece, Poland and Slovakia remained below 10%
  • Duplication of access lines (last mile) is limited across Europe. 82% of broadband lines rely on the copper local loop of the incumbent operator, whilst the remaining 17% of access is supplied through cable (14%) and mechanisms such as fibre (1.2%), fixed wireless (0.9%), and other means such as satellite.
  • When regulated access is taken into account, incumbents maintain 46% of the retail broadband market (unchanged since the last report). Most competition to the incumbent comes from unbundling of the local loop (sharing of the incumbent access line) – representing 21% of all broadband lines. A further 15% of incumbent lines are wholesaled to competitors
  • High ranking countries typically have competition from both cable and LLU
  • In the EU15, broadband growth was particularly strong in Ireland (17%) and Greece (45%), although in Greece growth is from a particularly low base. However, growth was less than 5% in Austria, Italy and the Netherlands.

  European broadband league table Q3 2007 

RankingQ3 07 RankingQ1 07 Country Penetration Growth (half year)
1 2 Denmark 34.5% 9% (9 months)
2 1 Netherlands 33.9% 3%
3 3 Finland 29.9% 6%
4 4 Sweden 29.5% 8%
5 6 UK 24.9% 8%
6 8 Belgium 24.7% 19%
7 5 Luxembourg 24% (Jul 07) N/A
8 7 France 23.4% 9%
9 9 Germany 19.5% 1%
10 10 Austria 19.1% 4%
11 11= Spain 17.3% 8%
12 14 Ireland 16.8% 17%
13 11= Italy 16.5% 3%
14 13 Portugal 15.6% 7%
15 15 Greece 8.1% 45%