Internet use doubles but still low in European Union –

The average number of households accessing the Internet almost doubled in the European Union's (EU) 15 countries -- but only to a mere 8.3% -- between 1997 and 1998, according to a recent Eurobarometer survey from the European Commission.

Northern residents, however, are far more plugged in than their southern counterparts, according to the study, called "Measuring Information Society 1998." Swedes come out on top, with 39.6% of the population accessing the Internet at home, the survey found. Sweden is followed by Denmark (24.6%) and the Netherlands (19.6%).

Scandinavian countries are widely reported to have more Internet users per capita than any other country, including the U.S. The U.S. had almost 52% of the world's Internet users in 1998, according to Computer Industry Almanac Inc., and the number of users is expected to grow from 76.5 million to more than 207 million in 2005.

At the low end of the scale, only 2.9% of all Greeks access the Internet at home, the Eurobarometer found, followed by 3.4% of households in Portugal, 3.9% in France and 5% in Spain. U.K. Internet use in the home stands at 10.7%.

While 27 million people in the EU use the Internet from their home, approximately 22.4 million use it at work, representing 13.3% of the working population. In countries where home Internet use is high, so is business use of the Net, the survey indicated.

A lack of need was the main reason reported for the low interest in Internet services: 55% of respondents said they had no need for such services; 24.2% said the services were too expensive; 21.5% said they didn't have the necessary equipment; and 18.2% found the whole issue too complicated.

Regarding basic computer use, an average of 30.8% of EU citizens use PCs at home, again with the majority of use in the northern countries: 59.8% of all Swedes use computers at home, followed by the Dutch (58.8%) and the Danes (56.7%). At the other end of the scale, only 12.2% of Greek citizens use computers in their home, while 18.4% of all Portuguese, 22.8% of all French and 26.6% of all Italians use computers at home.

The survey also found that 30.2% of all Europeans have mobile phones. The main users are in Finland, at 64.4% of the population; Sweden was at 60.3%, followed by Italy at 44.2%. Mobile-phone penetration is the lowest in Germany, the Netherlands and France, where mobile-phone use averaged, respectively, 19.4%, 24.2% and 25.5%.

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