Free ISPs have helped drive Internet adoption in key European countries as high as 17 per cent of the population.
According to the third Internettrak survey, conducted every six months in conjunction with KPMG, Dell and Intel, there are now 8.2 million Web users in the UK over the age of 14, representing 17 per cent of the population. This is an increase from eight million in the survey six months ago.
In Germany the figure is higher at 10.9 million (up from 10.5 million) online users, 16 per cent of the population, while 13 per cent of French people - a total of 6.1 million - are online. France has had the biggest increase, from around 3.8 million six months ago.
Web penetration in the UK is expected to rise significantly in the next six months with two million respondents indicating they are "very likely" to use the Web before the year end.
The main driver for increased adoption of the Web in UK homes is the wide availability of free ISPs. Around 50 per cent of users currently get access via a free ISP, a figure which is expected to rise once the remaining annual contracts of paid for services run out, said Richard Hurd-Wood, director HSB and operations at Dell Online. Hurd-Wood predicts in a short time as many as 90 per cent of users will get online via a free ISP.
Despite still having to pay for local calls Europeans are spending more time online, with the average home use rising to an average of 14.3 hours a month. The most popular usage is still research, either on specific products, services or issues.
Consumers are slowly getting more used to shopping online, however, as in the UK 24 per cent of Web users have purchased products online. This compares to 28 per cent in Germany and 11 per cent in France.
The survey was conducted by market research company NOP Business during May 1999.
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