The take-up of broadband Internet slowed sharply across Europe last year, the European Competitive Telecommunications Association has revealed.

A new report from the organisation also pointed out that former monopoly operators were reclaiming market share lost to rivals in recent years, and drew a link between the two.

Growth in the number of broadband subscriptions grew six percent in the third quarter of last year, compared with 23 percent in 2005. It also almost stalled in a number of countries including Denmark and Belgium, with just three percent growth. France saw growth slow to 10 percent; Spain, Sweden and Austria also suffered a slow-down.

"Growth has stalled in a number of countries where we have seen the power of the incumbent on the increase," said Steen Clausen, managing director of ECTA. France has fallen to eighth place in ECTA's scorecard, well behind the UK for the first time, he said. "This is extremely disappointing news from some of the countries which have traditionally been at the forefront of Europe's broadband revolution."

The UK however experienced faster growth in broadband subscriptions. "It seems that the UK has learnt some of the lessons that propelled France up the league table, and is now reaping those rewards with a multitude of offers to consumers," said Clausen. "Germany too is starting to show signs of progress."

Europe is home to some of the world's leading broadband countries. However, its position in the fast track of broadband take-up globally could be put at risk if regulators do not act to re-enforce competition and open markets, ECTA warned.

The link between increased power for incumbents and stagnation has been confirmed by studies, including one from SPC Network, which concluded that Europe could gain an extra 20 million broadband lines by opening markets further to competition.

"This is a powerful warning for governments not to protect national champions, either now or for the future," Clausen said. "Monopolies have never been good for consumers, and in some industries governments have to take action to let competition flourish. In energy for example, the Commission is proposing extra measures to open markets to competition. We believe this could provide some valuable lessons for telecoms."