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Europe Sets Broadband Strategy

The European Commission says moving to a single broadband market would overcome a host of challenges and improve its citizens' access to high-speed Internet.
European Commission officials have proposed to increase broadband access across the entire multination community, vowing to protect Net neutrality in spite of a host of challenges presented by cross-border national boundaries.

In its Digital Agenda report released this week, the EC bemoaned the European community's broadband lag behind South Korea, Japan, and the United States, and proposed moving to a single broadband market. The current approach with each country generally providing its own broadband is rife with problems, according to the Digital Agenda report.

The report noted that fully one-third of Europe's citizens have never used the Internet -- "Internet virgins," the report calls them.

"We must put the interests of Europe's citizens and businesses at the forefront of the digital revolution and so maximize the potential of information and communications technologies (ICTs) to advance job creation, sustainability, and social inclusion," said Neelie Kroes, European Union commissioner for digital affairs, in a statement.

Only 1% of Europeans have access to ultra-high-speed Internet. Cross-border challenges include how to establish a single payments service for all countries. The report observed that 60% of European shoppers who attempt to purchase something from another EU state are thwarted, usually because of technical difficulties or their credit cards aren't recognized in other EU countries.

Noting also the low research & development Internet budgets of most countries, the Digital Agenda report urged individual countries to double their R&D budgets. Kroes said 40% less is invested in broadband by European countries than in the United States.

The report called for all Europeans to have basic broadband by 2013 and for Europeans to have 30-Mbps broadband by 2020.

The commission compared some pan-European services with U.S. services and found the European services wanting. "Today there are four times as many music downloads in the U.S. as in the EU because of the lack of legal offers and fragmented markets," according to the Digital Agenda report.

"There is a digital single market in Europe," said Kroes, "but it is an illegal one -- that of music downloads."

While the commission's proposals were ambitious and laid out specific goals, it didn't spell out how the implementations would be financed.