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UK 'leads EU powers on broadband'

The UK has the highest take-up and coverage of superfast broadband among leading European economies, according to new figures.

Ofcom said the UK leads the EU's four other biggest economies - France, Germany, Italy and Spain - on most measures of coverage, take-up, usage and choice for both mobile and fixed broadband.

The regulator's European Broadband Scorecard also found that the UK "performs well" on price.

The report found that the availability of superfast broadband has increased in the UK from around 60% at the end of 2011 to 73%, taking the country from third to first for coverage among the "EU5".

Take-up of superfast broadband, which is capable of providing speeds equal to or greater than 30Mbit/s, had reached nine in every 100 people in the UK at the start of last year, the highest in the EU5.

Among the EU5, the UK also has the highest overall broadband take-up by household at 83%, the highest proportion of people to have bought goods online over a year (77%), the highest weekly usage of the internet (87%) and the lowest proportion of people who have never used the internet (8%).

Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said: "This is excellent progress for the UK, but there is more to be done.

"We want to see even wider availability of superfast broadband across the UK, so as many people as possible can enjoy faster speeds to access the internet.

"There is also more progress to be made to ensure consumers receive consistently high quality of service, including faster line repairs and installations for broadband and telephony."

Mr Richards and Ofcom chairwoman Colette Bowe have written to Business Secretary Vince Cable and Culture Secretary Maria Miller pointing out the positive figures after Prime Minister David Cameron found himself on the end of some good-natured teasing from German Chancellor Angela Merkel regarding the speed of the UK's roll-out of superfast broadband.

She wanted to know when Britain would finally complete the roll-out of high-speed broadband to every house in the country, as she toured the opening day of the CeBIT technology fair in Hanover with Mr Cameron on Monday.

Mr Cameron offered the reply that "hundreds of millions of pounds" were being invested in the project, to which a delighted Mrs Merkel - who had clearly anticipated the answer - retorted that Germany would be done by 2018.

Mr Richards and Ms Bowe wrote: "As you will be aware, over the last few days there has been press commentary about the UK's relative position in Europe when it comes to superfast broadband and 4G mobile networks.

"We therefore thought it would be helpful to set out the latest data on the UK's performance, which indicates that we are leading the main EU nations when it comes to superfast broadband and 4G network deployment."

Communications Minister Ed Vaizey said: " As part of the Government's long-term economic plan, broadband in the UK is going through a remarkable transformation.

"The Government's rollout of superfast broadband is accelerating - Britons already do more business online than any other European country, and the news that we now have the best superfast coverage of all five leading European economies is testament to the progress made to date."

Dominic Baliszewski, telecoms spokesman at independent comparison site, said: " It is great to see the UK leading the pack for superfast broadband on Ofcom's European Broadband Scorecard, but success is relative and it is important to avoid complacency.

"More households than ever before can access superfast services but the key number is actual uptake and currently, despite over 70% availability, uptake is still below 10%. We need to burst the price illusion bubble surrounding fibre. Prices have come down considerably in the last 18 months and superfast does not mean super-expensive anymore.

"Momentum needs to be maintained if the UK is to become a truly digital nation, which means neglected rural communities and 'notspots' must be connected to this vital part of UK infrastructure. Broadband has become a utility in its own right and the absence of a working connection can have a seriously negative impact on families, from an educational, financial and social standpoint.

"Fibre-optic technology means broadband speed can be maintained over a long distance and is therefore crucial to ensuring these communities can benefit from being online. If gas, electricity and water supplies to rural areas were weak or non-existent simply due to distance issues there would be a national outcry."

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