Broadband competition has been problematic on both sides of the Atlantic, but European Union regulators are preparing to open up the market in Europe. Earlier today, the European Commission announced plans to change how broadband service is regulated. Taking an opposite approach to their counterparts in the US, the EC regulators will force incumbent providers to share their infrastructure with competitors.
Under previous EU directives, member countries are supposed to be taking the initiative in ensuring broadband competition exists within their borders. Movement has been slow, however, leaving phone companies such as France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom AG (better known as T-Mobile in the US) with over 80 percent of broadband connections in some countries.
"We must open the markets where they are dominated by dominant players," said EU commission Viviane Reding. "Where the markets are opened, investments are done and price go down for consumers."
The EU’s approach contrasts with that of the US, which is content to let the telecoms and cable companies keep their infrastructure all to themselves. The Federal Communications Commission’s position is that competition between broadband modes is all that is necessary, so if a market is served by both cable and DSL ISPs, adequate competition exists. It’s nice in theory, but not practical in many urban areas where the infrastructure isn’t up to the task of providing adequate DSL service or where consumers have the choice between two equally bad alternatives.
Last week, 34 European nations endorsed a new initiative that would, among other things, ensure that 90 percent of all Europeans have some form of broadband access by 2010. If this proposal to strengthen broadband competition is approved, some Europeans would go from having no broadband service at all to being able to choose from a number of different providers in just a few years.