Europe’s broadband: it’s a lottery for consumers

Europe’s 400 million Internet users face a geographic lottery regarding the price, speed, and range of choice of broadband, according to new data from the European Union. Four studies published this week show there is virtually no pattern or coherence in broadband markets across the EU.

Consumers appear to be confused by the varying information provided by operators, which it is claimed is limiting their ability to make the most appropriate choice. An alarming 66 per cent of people have no idea what Internet speed they have signed up for.

Prices for the most common broadband connections can be up to four times higher in some European member states, while consumers only receive, on average, 75 per cent of the broadband speed they sign up for.

The new research shows up to 400 per cent price difference between EU countries in advertised broadband offers in the 12 to 30Mbit/s category of fixed broadband that most Europeans subscribe to. Prices start from €10 to €46 per month, depending on where you live, and could be as high as €140 per month.

“There is no good reason why one person should pay over four times more than another in Europe for the same broadband,” said European Commission Vice-President NeelieKroes. “There is no single market for internet and that has to change.”

The cheapest advertised monthly broadband is available in Lithuania (€10.30), Romania (€11.20) and Latvia (€14.60). The most expensive is in Cyprus (€46.20), Spain (€38.70) and Ireland (€31.40). The biggest domestic price range is in Poland, with offers ranging from €20 up to a staggering €140.

A study by the SamKnows website (in my opinion, an excellent site and well worth checking on a regular basis) took more than 7 billion measurements of the broadband connections of nearly 10,000 volunteers. It found that DSL services were the worst culprits, achieving an average of just 63.8 per cent of their advertised download speeds. Fibre FTTx services managed an average of 82.7 per cent, with cable doing better at 89.5 per cent.

“While underlying networks are improving, the gap between advertised and actual speeds is as wide as in 2012,” said Kroes. “This confirms the need to strengthen and harmonise consumer rights as proposed in our Connected Continent package. It is time for companies to work together to find better ways to advertise and explain their products.”

While some differences between markets can be explained by different underlying costs and incomes, the EU believes much of today’s inconsistency is due to persistent market fragmentation – the sector still operates largely on the basis of 28 national markets. The European Parliament will next week (April 3) vote on the Commission’s plans for a ‘Connected Continent’, which seeks to offer consumers more transparency, more rights and better services.

However, the proposed legislation is highly controversial, not least because of the net neutrality ‘compromise’ that offers an escape-hatch for telcos wanting to gate-keep their networks and to charge upstream.

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