Broadband access to the internet should be a universal service for all European Union citizens, the European Commission said Thursday as it launched a debate on the issue with policy makers, industry and the public.
Over a third of all households in the E.U. have a broadband connection, compared with just over 10 percent in 2003, according to a Commission report published Tuesday.
While countries including Denmark, Luxembourg and Belgium have universal access to broadband, poorer and larger countries lag behind. Broadband access is only possible in 40 percent of Romania, the report found.
Even Germany, the E.U.'s most powerful national economy, cannot offer broadband in 12 percent of the country.
The report concluded that competitive markets for broadband internet are providing E.U. citizens widespread and affordable access, but that "further efforts are needed to ensure broadband for all."
"High-speed Internet is the passport to the information society and an essential condition for economic growth. This is why it is this Commission's policy to make broadband internet for all Europeans happen by 2010", said E.U. Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding.
A 2002 E.U. law on universal service says that all citizens must have access to a fixed line network and access to the Internet via a basic dial-up connection.
While more needs to be done by the public sector to make broadband access universal in Europe, the private sector appears to have managed to make mobile phones universal all by itself, Reding said.
Mobile phone penetration in the E.U. has risen from 85 percent to 112 percent of the population since 2004, according to the report. "These figures are an important vote of confidence of mobile consumers in the health of Europe's mobile sector. They show that, at present, there is no need to impose universal service obligations on mobile operators," Reding said.
The debate over the issue of universal telecoms services with the European Parliament, national governments, companies and the general public will stretch over next year, the Commission said, adding that it doesn't expect to propose any new legislation before 2010.