Sixty four million people now have broadband access across the 25 countries of the EU, but Ireland remains near the bottom of the pile in terms of penetration.
That's according to the latest Broadband Scorecard, from the European Competitive Telecommunications Association (ECTA), which reveals that broadband penetration across the EU grew 14.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2006.
Overall, the number of lines rose by 5.5 million, an increase of 9 per cent on the preceding quarter. However, the report indicates that during the three-month period, Ireland's broadband growth rate fell from 28 per cent to 19 per cent.
Currently, Ireland's position in the EU15 is 14th in terms of penetration; when the ascension countries are added in, the Republic is 17th out of 25.
In overall penetration terms, Ireland has moved up only 1.27 penetration percentage points and is beaten by seven other countries.
Denmark tops the league with broadband penetration of nearly 30 per cent, followed by the Netherlands (26.8 per cent) Finland (24 per cent) and Sweden (22.9 per cent). Ireland's rate stands at a paltry 8 per cent while Greece trails far behind other member states at just 2 per cent. The average EU15 penetration rate is 15.9 per cent.
According to ECTA, poorly scoring countries are not growing quickly enough to catch up with their neighbours, which is creating a widening gulf between connected and unconnected countries across the EU.
"People often like to make comparisons between broadband take-up in the EU, US and Japan, but actually the divergence within Europe itself is even greater," said Steen Clausen, managing director of ECTA.
"We don't have to cross continents to see how best to boost Europe's broadband. The answer is right in front of us. Countries that are performing relatively well, such as Denmark and the UK, have taken action to ensure there is choice and competition, while broadband access in laggard countries such as Greece and Ireland is still to a large extent dominated by the former state-owned incumbents," he added.
Lobby group Ireland Offline reacted angrily to the latest report saying that unless something dramatic happens in the next few months Ireland is going to lose the broadband battle.
The organisation also played down the continuous highlighting of Ireland's broadband growth rate with spokesman Eamonn Wallace claiming that a high growth rate on a low penetration rate is meaningless.
"We grew by 19 per cent last quarter, the Netherlands grew at 6 per cent - three times slower - yet they have moved higher up the table and even further away from us. Penetration rate is the key indicator on progress and when you look at that you see the rest of the EU are doing much much better than Ireland," said Wallace.
The Labour Party's communications spokesperson Tommy Broughan TD also criticised Ireland's broadband record.
"This new eminent international scoreboard provides yet more evidence of Ireland's ongoing disastrous broadband performance," said Broughan. "This latest survey confirms once more the real-life frustrating experience of so many families and businesses across the country as regards accessing broadband services.
"Recently ECTA warned many of the new EU member states that a 'two-speed' Europe was being created in terms of broadband services because effective measures were not being put in place fast enough in those states to accelerate their level of broadband rollout. Unfortunately, Ireland looks set to remain part of this group of second-rate broadband states."
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