BRUSSELS: European Union broadband uptake is surging ahead of the US and Japan, thanks to fierce competition from new providers, say officials.

Figures released by the European Commission show 19 million broadband connections were added in 2007 across the region, equivalent to more than 50,000 households a day.

Eight countries have higher penetration rates than the US and Japan, claims telecommunications commissioner Viviane Reding. Topping the world list are Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Finland, followed by the UK, Belgium, Luxembourg and France.

Reding is determined to press ahead with efforts to further loosen restrictions and allow more providers to enter the market, especially in Germany and France where the former state monopolies have been resistant.

She also wants to give regulators (or possibly a new EU-wide watchdog) the power to enforce "functional separation", through which the owners of telecoms networks are freed from their operating divisions.

The major telcos, and some individual governments, argue against such moves, saying the framework for meaningful competition exists already.  

Says European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association director Michael Bartholomew: "The real challenge that now needs to be tackled is to foster infrastructure-based competition and encourage the deployment of high-speed access networks.

"Functional separation is not the right answer to encourage this risky investment." 
Ripostes Reding: "Those who have a stronghold will do everything so that regulation doesn't bite."

Data sourced from International Herald-Tribune; additional content by WARC staff