THE EUROPEAN UNION is definitely not united when it comes to the digital divide, with vast differences between the most Internet connected nations of Scandinavia, to countries like Romania, Bulgaria and Greece whose citizens hardly use the Internet at all. In fact, according to a new report, on average, for 40 per cent of Europeans, the Internet is all still a bit of a mystery.
A European Commission “Information and Communication Technologies Progress Report”, which takes its data from the organisation EuroStat, says that the EU has a lot of work ahead of it if it’s going to try and get more people to use public and/or commercial services that, more and more, are ending up online.
According to Eurostat, household Internet access in 2007 ranged from a desperately low 19 per cent in Bulgaria to a European high of 83 per cent in the Netherlands. Scandinavian countries like Sweden and Denmark also came in top positions with 79 per cent and 78 per cent respectively. Romania and Greece languished at the bottom of the table with 22 per cent and 25 per cent respectively.
A spokesman for Eurostat, Timothy Allen, told the INQ that men also used the Internet marginally more than women, but not to a significant extent. The survey covers more than 150,000 households across the 27 member states, making its conclusions fairly wide reaching.
Age was unsurprisingly found to be a very significant factor when looking at the results, with the 2007 numbers from Eurostat showing that 80 per cent of 16-25 year olds used the Internet at least once a week, while only 58 per cent of 25-55 year olds used it and 25 per cent of 55-75 year olds. The unemployed and the less educated were also found to be less connected to the Internet, pointing to clear socio-economic factors as the reason for the European digital divide.
As a result, the EU is now trying to push the various governments to reduce the price of the technology needed for people to get online, by breaking state telecom monopolies and introducing more competition to bring the prices down. In this way, they hope that more people will be able to afford Internet connection in the future.
Its not all as gloomy as it sounds though. The Commission reckons that in 2007, the Internet attracted almost 40 million new regular users in the European Union, bringing the total number of Internet users to 250 million in total.
According to the report, 96 per cent of European schools are connected to the Internet; whilst 57 per cent of doctors now send or receive patients' data and 46 per cent of them get results from laboratories electronically. It was also found that 77 per cent of EU businesses use the Internet for dealing with banks.
The report says that the EU has set itself a target of raising access to high-speed broadband Internet from the current 20 per cent of the EU population that have it today to 30 per cent by 2010.
They’d just better teach granny and those Mediterranean layabouts how to surf the net first though. µ
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