Almost half of Europeans use the internet every day but one third – mainly the elderly, the unemployed or people in rural areas – have never used the web, according to a new European Commission report.
The study, published on Tuesday (4 August), showed that new technologies are spreading fast across the old continent but deep divisions remain.
Forty three percent of EU citizens currently use the web every day. While seventy five percent use it regularly (at least once a week) compared to 43 percent in 2005.
The biggest increases in regular internet use were seen in Ireland, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Latvia and Lithuania. Italy, Cyprus, Romania and Portugal lagged far behind in what the report called a "source of concern."
With 114 million subscribers, the EU is the largest world market for fixed broadband access. Half of European households and more than 80 percent of European businesses have a fixed broadband connection.
Experts said that the high penetration levels have been achieved due to pro-competition regulation of the sector, which has led to lower prices.
But while broadband is technically available to 90 percent of EU households only 50 percent use it in practice, with mainly low-income families opting out.
Low usage rates are also seen among the 65 to 74 age group, economically inactive people and people with low levels of education.
Such social disparities are strongly present in Romania, Greece, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Lithuania, Slovenia and Italy. The greatest digital equality is seen in Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Luxemburg.
The commission's report also highlighted the rise of "digital natives" – people aged 16 to 24 – as the most active and creative internet users. Seventy three percent of this group regularly uses advanced services to create and share online content.
The new generation has "tremendous potential to generate huge revenues across all sectors," EU information society commissioner Viviane Reding said.
"But to turn this advantage into sustainable growth and new jobs, governments must show leadership by adopting co-ordinated policies that dismantle existing barriers to new services."
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