The purpose of the Broadband Coverage in Europe in 2011 (BCE 2011) project is to support the objectives of the European Union’s Digital Agenda. Two of the Agenda’s key objectives are to provide all European Union citizens with basic broadband coverage by 2013 and broadband speeds of at least 30 megabits per second by 2020. BCE 2011 is designed to measure progress towards that objective and identify where action will be needed to achieve it.
The project was commissioned by the Directorate General for Information Society and Media, DG INFSO (now DG Connect). Neelie Kroes, the Vice President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda for Europe, has pointed out that “accurate data is critical for delivering policy and regulation that enables broadband internet for all Europeans.”
This report focuses on the key results for Europe.
For the first time the project was able to estimate the availability of broadband services across all the countries of the European Union (plus Norway and Iceland) taking account of all the main broadband technologies and of their distribution at sub-national level.
The results show that 95.7% of EU homes, over 200 million altogether, had access to at least a basic level of fixed broadband service by the end of 2011. (The figures for the study countries as a whole are virtually the same as the chart shows.) Over 50% of EU homes – 105 million – already had “Next Generation Access” services available to them, capable of delivering 30Mbps or more. This is an encouraging half-way milestone on the road to the Digital Agenda target of 30Mbps access for all by 2020.
The gap is inevitably larger in rural areas, particularly where NGA is concerned. 78.4% of rural EU homes have access to standard broadband but only 12.1% have NGA available. Thus 35 million of the 40 million rural homes in Europe are waiting for NGA to arrive and bringing it to them is likely to require considerable effort and investment.
The chart above provides a profile of broadband coverage in Europe as of the end of 2011. Key conclusions are summarised below.
For completeness the chart shows total coverage for both the 29 study countries as a whole and the 27 countries of the European Union only. Clearly the two are virtually identical. Norway and Iceland, the non-EU countries included, account for only 1% of the population covered by the research. Although they are considerably more rural than the study countries as a whole – Norway is the most rural of them all – their rural areas are better served by broadband than average so the differences tend to cancel out.
Both averages are shown in the charts in this section and the country comparisons which follow but they are not usually distinguished in the text.
Besides researching the total coverage of broadband technologies the BCE 2011 project was also tasked to provide data on the coverage of the rural areas of Europe. Because of the financial barriers to supplying broadband in areas of low population density, the rural part of Europe is expected to present the most difficulty for achieving both the basic and 30Mbps Digital Agenda objectives.
The current situation reflects those difficulties. Standard broadband coverage in rural Europe is 78% against 96% for the study countries as a whole. The headline gap for NGA is much greater, with 12% coverage so far in rural areas against 50% as whole.
Note also that the definition of rurality is quite limited. Looking at the smallest administrative areas, only those with less than 100 inhabitants per square kilometre are classified as rural. Many whole provinces or even whole countries have population densities below this level but seen in finer detail they are a mix of urban and rural areas. (For convenience here we describe all areas which are not rural as urban, although many of them would not be described or recognised as towns or even suburbs in ordinary usage.)
Less than 19% of the population of Europe is estimated to live in rural areas on this definition, although full statistics are not available. But even areas with much higher densities than 100 persons per square kilometer will generally be uneconomic for the roll-out of new broadband networks on a purely commercial basis.
Looking at the rural profile, key conclusions are:
Map: Standard broadband coverage in the study countries
As far as standard coverage is concerned, the map shows a continent which has virtually complete coverage in its towns and cities, and their surroundings, but still has some way to go in the countryside.
The countries with the densest populations (Malta, the Netherlands, Belgium and the UK) already show 100% coverage. So do many urban areas right across the continent. Many whole countries have reached the 95% coverage level. At the other end of the scale, only a few areas have below 75% coverage but over 200 are below 90%. Many more would be found to have more limited coverage than is shown here if more stringent criteria for broadband performance were applied. Simply quoting over 95% standard coverage understates the scale of the task still to be accomplished to meet the first of the Digital Agenda objectives.
Map: NGA coverage areas in the study countries
Looking at NGA coverage the picture is almost reversed in some ways. Here countries in the eastern half of the EU are ahead of many of those on the western side. After the Netherlands, Malta and Belgium, at or near 100% coverage – largely due to the extent of their cable networks – many of the leaders – Lithuania, Bulgaria, Slovenia etc – are in the eastern half of the EU. They have seized the opportunity to overcome the deficiencies of their legacy networks by rolling out fibre to serve large apartment blocks where the economics can be very attractive.
Many areas with above average NGA coverage are in the eastern EU while many in the West have no coverage at all. 208 NUTS 3 areas had 0% NGA availability at the end of 2011; 60% of all NUTS 3 areas had below the average 50% coverage. Here again there is a long way to go.
More information on broadband availability and coverage can be found in Point Topic’s Broadband Competition Map of Europe. Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone +44 (0)20 3301 3303 for more details.