The UK leads Europe in Internet usage, although it is still dwarfed by the US.
According to the Internet Industry Almanac, an annual reference book about the online industry, over 54 per cent of Internet users are based in the US, while the UK claims almost six per cent of the world's Web surfers, the third largest number.
Japan is in second place with eight per cent of users. All countries outside the top three account for under five per cent of usage, with Germany and Holland the leaders in mainland Europe.
Analysts identify the scale of PC penetration, plus more general differences such as population size and language, as the key factors behind the figures.
Carsten Hejndors of IDC explained: "About 75 per cent of Internet content is English so it stands to reason that the US and other English speaking countries would be ahead. But the UK is generally advanced in IT usage anyway. Corporate use of email is more widespread in the UK than southern European countries, or even Germany."
Hejndors also cited cheaper telecommunications as a reason for the UK?s high usage levels, and conversely argued that Spain and Italy?s higher telecomms charges are a huge factor in deterring Internet usage there.
Although levels of PC penetration are significant in shaping Internet trends, a different picture emerges when the numbers of computers with online connections are measured, as opposed to the number of people accessing the Net.
In research that she carried out last June, Pietra Gartzen of Dataquest found that Germany has five million computers connected to the Internet while the UK has only 1.5 million. But in the UK, more people access the Net via shared computers, the workplace, or libraries.
Gartzen attributed the high usage in Germany - compared to France, which comes only eleventh in the Almanac listing - to the popularity of Deutsche Telekom's T On-line service, which predates the Internet and has 1.8 million subscribers. Greenman also mentioned the local content of T On-line as a cause of its huge popularity.
But France is set to catch up with its neighbours. Gartzen identified Internet growth in France as the strongest among the larger European countries, partly because of its late start.
Both IDC?s Hejndors and Andy Freeman, from researchers Yankee group, listed low PC penetration in France, and the popularity of its alternative online service, Minitel, as key factors in France?s low use of the Net to date.
But Greenman sees France Telecom?s localised French language service as a potentially huge attraction. Its subscriptions are expected to treble this year. Greenman is also eyeing the planned launch of a Minitel/Internet hybrid in France as a spur for huge increases in surfing.
According to the Almanac research, Canada comes in fourth place in terms of numbers of users, with 4.33 per cent. Germany is next, followed by Australia. Holland has almost half as many users as Australia with Sweden, Finland and France close behind. Norway has one per cent share and is followed closely by Spain, Brazil, Italy and Switzerland.
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