Brussels, 08 February 2002
An eEurope benchmarking report published by the European Commission on 5 February has concluded that Internet penetration in the EU may well settle below the US take-up level.
The report says that Internet connection in EU households increased from 18 per cent in March 2000 to 28 per cent in October of the same year, then rose to 36 per cent in June 2001 and stood at 38 per cent in December 2001. The report says that this rapid pace of take-up may well indicate that Europe has reached a plateau in Internet penetration. While national statistics appear to confirm this trend, a further study in May 2002 will test if this is true.
The document states that one reason for the trend may be that growth in Internet penetration is limited by access to a personal computer. Those Member States with the highest level of Internet penetration have reached a rate of 60 per cent of households and further penetration will be limited. The report recommends that more policy attention be given to alternative platforms for Internet access, such as mobile phones and digital television.
The report highlights, however, that the rate of Internet take-up by businesses is far higher than the household rate. Almost 90 per cent of enterprises with more than ten employees are connected to the Internet, and 60 per cent have a web site.
In addition, Internet use in the whole population is higher than that indicated by household penetration rates. Over 80 per cent of Internet users go online at least once a week. While the biggest growth in Internet penetration in Europe has been in use at home, 2001 nonetheless saw a slower growth in Internet take-up in the EU than the USA.
The report also points out that although the cost of telephone access has been going down steadily, the costs of Internet access remain significantly higher in the EU than in the US. Costs are also much higher for broadband access, found by a recent study by GartnerG2 to be a key factor in dissuading consumers in Germany, France and the UK from turning to broadband.
A contrast is drawn, however, between the pace of residential broadband take-up and the successful use of broadband to create high speed Internet networks for European universities and research institutes. The Commission has co-funded the upgrade of national research and education networks, including all candidate countries.
This European research network, known as GEANT (Gigabit European academic network), now comprises 32 countries and has become the fastest network of its kind in the world. The report says that the network is a 'much-needed infrastructure tool for the establishment of the European research area [ERA].' It warns, however, that wide variations in the core speed of national networks have 'an impact on the possibilities for researchers to exploit the capacity of the European research network.'
The study also reports a slower than expected growth in e-commerce, with only a marginal rise in demand for electronically traded goods and services over the last year. In October 2000, 31 per cent of EU Internet users had purchased online, rising to 36 per cent in November last year. The report pinpoints Internet penetration levels, high delivery costs and a lack of consumer confidence as key factors in the slow growth in online retail.
The report also says that although progress to improve protection against security threats is slow, the Commission and Member States will take a series of measures in 2002 encompassing awareness-raising, technological support, regulation and international coordination. The establishment of an EU cyber security task force is also on the agenda to allow the Union to respond more efficiently to future security challenges.
The study also points out that although figures for May 2001 indicate that more than 80 per cent of EU schools were online, 'being a student in a school connected to the Internet does not necessarily mean that one has access to the Internet.' The report says that 'attention must therefore shift to better connections and wider educational use,' including measures to integrate Internet use into school curricula and training and support for teachers.
The report also calls for action to increase computer training in the knowledge-based economy. It states that 'digital skills are essential to the employability of workers in all sectors. However, people are not receiving the necessary training and only about a third of the EU workforce have ever had computer training for a job.' It concludes that measures are needed to increase access to digital skills training as 'digital skills are the key to many of the new industries and services that are most likely to lead to the recovery of growth.'