The European Commission (EC) is confident that it will achieve its targets for broadband uptake across the European Union (EU), despite the disappointing figures published and what would appear to be a waning commitment from Member States.
EU-wide access to high speed internet services is widely regarded as essential if digital distribution of film is to become a reality in Europe.
However, the latest progress report on EU Telecoms indicates that broadband uptake across the EU will fall well short of the Commission's target of 30% uptake by 2010.
Figures show that the average penetration rate for the EU 27 currently stands at only 20%.
European Commissioner for Information Society and Media, Viviane Reding, refused to concede defeat though, and reiterated her determination to meet the targets as she published the latest progress report on the EU Telecoms market.
'My objective is to achieve an average broadband penetration for the EU of 30% by 2010,' she said. 'A strict application of EU rules, promoting competition and investment, as well as the Commission's reform proposals currently discussed in Parliament and Council, should help us to achieve this.'
Publication of the disappointing figures comes shortly after the EU Spring Summit where Member States rejected individual targets of 30% for broadband uptake, opting for 'ambitious national targets' instead.
However, a Commission spokesperson dismissed the idea that the Member States were not supportive of the Commission's targets.
'Only a few Member States - mostly those very far behind the EU average - were opposed to the target. But the Presidency has to seek consensus, so a few was enough to prevent the target from being included,' the spokesperson explained. 'More than 20 Member States would have been happy to see the target included.'
The decision by Member States not to adopt concrete targets is not seen as problematic by everyone.
According to James Garlick, an analyst in global broadband market activity at Screen Digest, 'The market will carry on regardless. Setting targets is not how the market will develop. Providers are not under any regulatory pressure to meet such targets. A healthy regulatory environment and PC penetration are the factors that will foster competition, drive down prices and drive up uptake.'
But while European countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands are world leaders with broadband uptake running at well over 30%, the report also shows that countries such as Latvia, Slovakia and Poland are yet to make it into double figures.
A recent study carried out by Screen for CineRegio highlights the discrepancy in broadband provision across Europe, and in particular, between cities and rural area. As it points out, this lag in uptake is regarded as one of the main obstacles to the uptake of new digital services such as Video on Demand (VoD).
According to one member of the European Parliament's Culture and Education Committee, MEP Ruth Hieronymi, the importance of broadband in the development of services such as VoD is clear.
'Broadband provides the crucial perquisite in order to facilitate the development of new business models for on-demand services, which will give access to a new generation of interactive services to consumers.' Hieronymi said.
Broadband speeds are also an issue, with available download speeds in cities twice those in more rural areas.
This is a point that was reinforced by Garlick. 'It's not enough just to have broadband,' he said. 'For the growth of content we need high broadband penetration, but it is speed that enables content, especially High Definition content, to be delivered to consumers.'
The picture for European broadband growth is not entirely gloomy, however. While industry commentators predict that uptake will soon start to slow in the market leaders as those countries reach saturation, the data indicates that there remains considerable room for growth in Central European countries.
Important factors in broadband growth such as PC penetration and the availability of looped bundling packages that have not figured in these countries to date are now growing quickly.