Slovakia is catching up with broadband

ALMOST one fifth of Slovaks are connected to broadband internet service.

ALMOST one fifth of Slovaks are connected to broadband internet service.

That number is lower than in the most developed EU countries, but professionals are optimistic about the progress that's been made in spreading broadband service.

Broadband internet penetration in Slovakia stood at 17.24 percent as of January 1, 2008, based on the latest Slovak Telecommunications Bureau data submitted to the European Commission. That figure includes internet service with a speed of 144 Kb/sec., which is the minimum when comparing broadband service in the European Union.

EC statistics in July 2007 put the EU broadband internet penetration rate at 18.2 percent. That is a year-on-year increase of 3.3 percentage points. Denmark and the Netherlands were at the top, with 37.2 percent and 33.1 percent, respectively. Finland, Sweden, Luxembourg, Belgium, the UK, France, Germany and Estonia exceeded 20 percent.

Slovakia's numbers on broadband internet are low for the EU, but taking into consideration that it was less than 3 percent a few years ago, we think it's rather high, Jana Burdová, spokeswoman of Slovak Telekom, said.

"Broadband internet represents the fastest growing market of e-communication in the Slovak Republic," she added.

The history of broadband internet service in Slovakia dates back to 2003, according to Jaroslav Kolár, spokesman of UPC. "If almost one fifth of the population has connected in just 5 years, that's not bad."

The good news is that the service is more accessible to a larger number of potential customers and that interest in the service is growing, Kolár said. However, Slovakia will likely not be able to make big gains on the majority of Western European countries.

"This is despite the fact that the Slovak market is one of the most competitive when it comes to prices," Kolár said. "Broadband internet is affordable even to low-income households."

He sees the low number of PCs in Slovak households as one of the barriers to higher broadband internet penetration.

Ivica Hricová from Slovanet agrees with Kolár that although internet use is high in Slovakia, it is still limited mainly to schools and work. But she thinks more competition would lower internet service prices even further.

"There are a variety of internet providers on the market but only several of them are strong players," she said. "The acquisitions of smaller operators that could have increased competition might have contributed to [the situation]."

The EC has stated that all the Europeans should have broadband internet access by 2010, according to Burdová.

"This means that there is a lot of potential for further development in Slovakia and across Europe."

As well as being one of the most important criterion in evaluating how knowledge-based an economy has become, broadband service enables users to access the internet comfortably and to its fullest extent.

"A broadband connection is the only kind that's sufficient for basic internet use," Hricová said. "Narrowband connections are too slow for even standard activities, such as checking e-mail and surfing websites."

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