Young people in France have sounded a resounding "yes" to the Internet, thus removing the last cultural obstacle to the online world in the country.
A major survey just published shows that a large majority of respondents - surfers and non surfers - believed that the Internet would "make the world a better place" and that, "the coming Internet society represents individual freedom in a world that is more open and connected."
The survey, commissioned by France Telecom (www.francetelecom.fr) showed that the nation's young are ahead of the government when it comes to the Internet. The government has adopted a go slow policy at home and in international forums on questions related to ecommerce, encryption and domain names.
Despite a burst of activity this year, France remains far behind the other two major European economies in Internet use. There are just over one million French people paying for Internet access, Germany leads in Europe with close to five million connected users and Britain has just over two million.
The view in French intellectual circles that Internet was "a tool of American domination" has given way to enthusiasm about the Net's role in opening up an often secretive society.
"The results reveal there is no discernible difference between the views of young Net surfers and non-surfers. [Around threequarters] believe that the Internet will quickly take off in France and be used by most people," the survey concluded.
Threequarters said the Net made the world a better place, while 94 per cent think the Internet will create a society that is more open to the world; 88 per cent believe it will foster communications among French people and 59 per cent think it will lead to a freer world.
Sonia Laser, Internet consultant based in Paris, commented: "There is still French prudence over how deep the changes will be brought about by the Internet, but young people do see the Net as an important factor leading to a lot of changes. They think it will make France a less elitist society."
Dataquest estimates that France could overtake Germany and Britain and move to ten million users by 2002.
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