Geographies in Depth

70% of homes in the EU have high-speed internet – but a digital divide persists

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70% of homes in the European Union in 2021 had high-speed internet connections. Image: Unsplash/Glenn Carstens-Peters

Victoria Masterson
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • In the European Union, 70% of homes in 2021 had high-speed internet connections, up from 16% in 2013, according to Eurostat.
  • But in rural areas, which can struggle to get internet coverage, only 37% of homes had high-speed internet in 2021.
  • Malta, Luxembourg, Denmark and Spain have the most high-speed internet coverage for homes in the EU.

Homes in Europe are enjoying faster internet speeds.

In 2021, 70% of homes in the European Union (EU) enjoyed high-speed internet coverage, according to Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office. This is up from just 16% in 2013.

But rural homes are being left behind, finds Eurostat.

The best - and worst - connected countries

Malta, a Mediterranean island country with a population of over 500,000, leads the 27-nation EU, with 100% of households having high-speed internet coverage in 2021. Luxembourg, Denmark and Spain are next, with 96%, 95% and 94% of homes respectively recording high-speed internet coverage.

Countries with the least widespread connections in 2021 were Greece, with 20% of homes covered, Cyprus with 41% and Italy with 44%.

High-speed internet coverage by type of area by percentage of households in European countries in 2021.
Just over 70% of homes in the European Union enjoyed high-speed internet access in 2021. Image: Eurostat

Getting rural areas online

Eurostat says rural areas – described as ‘low settled areas’ – also saw an increase in high-speed internet coverage, from 4% in 2013 to 37% in 2021 across the EU.

Rural areas often struggle to get internet connections, because of their geography and smaller populations, explains the Rural Services Network. This can make it expensive and uneconomic for suppliers to install and run services.

This lack of internet access creates a digital divide, even in some of the world’s richest countries.

High-speed internet coverage by type of area by percentage of households in low settled areas.
High-speed internet only reaches 37% of homes in rural ‘low settled areas’ of the EU. Image: Eurostat

Europe’s digital divide

Despite progress across the EU, access to high-speed internet connections differs “significantly” across member states, Eurostat says. Access can also vary within countries depending on the size of population in different areas.

For example, no homes in rural areas of Greece have high-speed internet connections, according to the Eurostat data. In the Czech Republic, only 7% of rural homes have it. And in Finland, that figure’s just 12%.

In contrast, all of Malta’s rural homes have high-speed internet access, the data finds. Luxembourg, Denmark and the Netherlands have the next highest level of rural household internet, at 79% for all three countries.

Faster internet speeds

The European Commission, the EU’s government, wants all homes across the EU to have ‘gigabit connectivity’ by 2030. These are ultra-fast internet connections that download data at one gigabit (1,000 megabits) per second.

This is up to 100 times faster than typical home internet download speeds. A gigabit internet connection can let you download 100 photos in three seconds or download a high-definition film in seven seconds, according to Gigabair.

Increasing internet access

Globally, 37% of the population – about 2.9 billion people – don’t have internet access, according to the EDISON Alliance, a World Economic Forum initiative to improve digital inclusion.

In low-income countries, the Alliance says cost, not coverage, is the biggest barrier to connectivity. As a proportion of average income, mobile broadband in these countries is 18 times more expensive than in developed countries.

Through its 1 Billion Lives Challenge, the Alliance wants to bring affordable and accessible digital solutions to one billion people in the areas of health, finance and education.

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EDISON Alliance: What is the Forum doing to close the digital gap?

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Related topics:
Geographies in DepthUrban TransformationForum Institutional
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