One in four adults in the UK find the internet a turn-off and have no intention of getting online, according to a report published today.
Despite nearly 13 million people currently using the internet in the UK, a large number still do not understand what it is for, or what it can offer. According to the Which? Online survey of 1970 UK adults, nearly 15 million people find the internet to be irrelevant, of no value and a threat to high street shops.
"These 'never-users' are telling us that they think the internet is too expensive and irrelevant to them, and that they can get what's on it elsewhere," said Paul Kitchen, head of Which? Online.
With only one in 10 non-users intending to access the internet within the next year, and 50 per cent refusing to ever get online, Which? Online has warned that the UK is at risk of becoming "digitally divided" unless non-users are shown the benefits of using the internet.
Alan Stevens, head of digital services for Which Online?, said: "A digitally divided nation is quite a concern for the government and the industry, and there are very few inroads moving into it. Consumers need to be encouraged to go online and provided [with] a better awareness of the benefits of the internet and why it is useful."
"The government plans to make most of its services digital, so will need to educate people about the internet's use. Internet service providers can encourage consumers by making material more relevant and of use to individuals," he added.
More positive news for the internet industry is that online shopping has increased over the last year. Nearly six million adults now purchase goods from websites, with the number set to increase. According to Which? Online, internet users are making bigger and more significant online purchases, with computer equipment being one of the most popular examples.
New methods of internet access, such as the mobile phone or digital television, could encourage consumers by offering a cheaper alternative to the PC for getting online. A large number of those surveyed agreed that mobile devices would one day be used for all communication needs.
Meanwhile, a UK government report from the National Office of Statistics published yesterday showed that levels of internet access are significantly higher among the better paid, and those living in the South.
While one in four Londoners enjoy home internet access, only one in seven in the North East and Scotland surf the web, and the figure is just one in nine in Northern Ireland. Among homes with incomes of £270 a week or less, less than one in 20 are online, while nearly half of all homes enjoying a weekly income of more than £900 have internet access.
A spokesman for the government's E-Envoy Alex Allan, who responsibilities include increasing the number of UK surfers, says that the UK Online initiative will give those who want to go online the opportunity to do so without having to worry about buying a PC. Some 700 online centres are being opened from the autumn, and all schools and libraries are scheduled to have internet access by 2002, he added.
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