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Has Ofcom’s European broadband ranking cooked the books?

Has Ofcom’s European broadband ranking cooked the books?Ofcom says the UK is Europe’s joint best for ADSL broadband but mid-table for superfast over-30Mbps internet – but is it a fair comparison?

The European Broadband Scorecard is Ofcom’s first attempt to put a number on former British culture secretary Jeremy Hunt’s vague goal to have ‘Europe’s best broadband by 2015’.

The media regulator has tried to compare the UK against European Union nations on broadband coverage, take-up and usage, speed and consumer choice.

They failed completely to find comparable speed data, and could only compare prices with the top five European Union economies: France, Germany, Italy and Spain, aka the EU5.

Ofcom’s also decided that it’s only worth ranking the UK against the top five for everything else because we have more in common – but it did include the scores against all 27 EU members (the EU27).

The Scorecard also contains some of the most mind-bending data representations we’ve ever seen (there’s one above left to make your eyeballs ache).

UK broadband: cheap but not fast

Has Ofcom’s European broadband ranking cooked the books?
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When it comes to standard ADSL broadband, the EU5 have all got more than 95 per cent coverage, as do 16 of the full 27 European countries.

For superfast, Germany and Spain superfast broadband coverage are highest (60-65 per cent of 
households), followed by the UK (55-60 per cent), France (35-40 per cent) and Italy (10-15 per cent). Third out of five – could be worse.

But across the EU, Belgium, Malta and the Netherlands all have more than 95 per cent superfast coverage, leaving the UK in lowly 17th place behind non-comparable countries like Austria and Denmark.

Across the EU5, the UK wins on ADSL take-up, and we’re only third in the whole of Europe for connections per 100 homes (77 per cent).

Superfast broadband take-up is third amongst our five EU mates with two per cent against speedy Spain’s four per cent. 

Across the continent, however, Blighty is a tardy 27th, compared to over 14 per cent superfast take-up in Malta and Belgium beats 12 per cent. Only Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Poland, Austria and France are below us.

Has Ofcom’s European broadband ranking cooked the books?

The UK does excel for basic broadband prices – first within the EU5 with an average of €53/month for a broadband-voice bundle, and number seven across the whole EU.

We’re second in superfast broadband pricing against our five neighbours, but you could save up to €30 in Germany. Across the whole EU, however, British superfast broadband is a pricey 15th place – no wonder Ofcom plays this down.

UK ISPs offer a great choice of slow

One thing where the UK rates very highly is in our choice of broadband providers: we’re first in the EU5 and just fourth across the whole EU, with incumbent operator BT having just a third of the fixed broadband market.

The national phone company (or it’s privatised successor) is much more powerful in many other countries, but is this entirely honest? 

Ofcom’s comparing BT Retail to other ISPs, but the majority of Britain’s phone lines are still owned and operated by BT Openreach with ISPs licensing the copper and installing equipment in BT exchanges.

Fast broadband? You don’t even know what it means

Ofcom conducts biannual broadband performance tests using SamKnows, a consultancy which places special ‘white boxes’ in consumer homes to conduct a battery of tests of their connection to the internet.

SamKnows set the UK’s average broadband speed at 9Mbps in May 2012, with another set of figures for November 2012 due out this spring, but no-one else in Europe has any comparable broadband speed tests.

Internationally, the best-known speed ranking is Akamai, which conducts software-based speed tests ranking connections between its servers and users, across the internet and various end-user connections.

Akamai ranked the UK at an average 6.3Mbps in January this year, but Ofcom said: “Software testing can be a useful tool for consumers and generates large amounts of international data. 

“However, we do not consider this data suitable for deriving comparable national average fixed-line download speed estimates.”

Ofcom’s hoping some data will turn up which will give a UK comparison it likes, until then, Akamai’s as good as it gets, and that’s (apparently) not good enough.

Images courtesy Ofcom

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