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< Contents ERCIM News No. 59, October 2004
  News about legal information relating to Information Technology from European directives, and pan-European legal requirements and regulations.

On the Impact of Broadband Internet
For most European internet users in 2000, broadband internet was an unknown form of access.

Fast internet did exist, but it was almost exclusively used by companies and universities. Only consumers (aka punters) with cable internet could surf the net at speeds well over 128Kbps (ISDN). However, due to the specific architecture of coax-internet, this kind of access was not common in Europe round 2000.

Some reports, mainly based on research done in the US, were not very positive about the growth perspectives for telecom operators of Broadband. There were two main reason for this:

  • one renowned research company briefed to its customers : "Broadband is perceived as a luxury; until service providers make it a necessity, consumers' interest will remain limited".
  • as most European punters had learned a few years before that there was something like 'free access' not many those days were willing to pay monthly fees over 50 Euro.

Nevertheless during 2002/2003 all over Europe the number of broadband users surged. More Cable television cable-networks were upgraded to make internet access possible. As a result, cable providers in countries like Belgium, Austria and the Netherlands became leaders in broadband and in almost every EU-member state DSL was no longer a service offered exclusively by the incumbent telecom operator.

The number of broadband suppliers grew and all were eager to introduce new access forms to increase their market share. As a result of this in all EU member states the monthly fees for broadband access dropped.

So the number of users grew, but why? Was growth only caused by lower prices ?

One thing is for sure, no access provider had unique content that that could cause a rapid growth in subscriber numbers.

Most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) now acknowledge that broadband access has rapidly become a commodity, like electricity, that enables services and content to users that are not owned in any way by their own ISPs.

Services like online banking and p2p file sharing are the main reasons why broadband access is such an success. It is somehow strange to realize, that suppliers of bank services do profit from broadband and they are even in a large degree responsible for its success, but they are not responsible for investments or maintenance of the copper infrastructure.

The way p2p filesharing lead to the success of broadband Internet is also an interesting case. Despite the fact ISPs in Europe are not banks and are not napster-like super nodes, banking and filesharing have become very important issues for ISPs in Europe.

The ever increasing demand for a safer internet and the calls from music and movie industry to do more to respect their rights, claims that are partly backed by politicians from all over Europe, causes the access providers to become more aware of the possible impact of new access technologies.

Back in 2000 some analysts already predicted that fast internet and the number of users would change over the next years. Some predicted that applications like online gaming or digital photo sharing sites could trigger rapid chances. But no one predicted that broadband use would lead to world wide discussions about DRM, eSecurity and copy-protection schemes.