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European households becoming increasingly digital: survey

The drive to get European citizens to go digital would appear to be gradually paying off, according to the findings of an EU-wide survey. It finds that more than half of European households have a computer - 4% more than in a similar study done at the end of 2006, while increasing numbers of people are switching to broadband and wireless internet access.

Published on 27 April, the 'E-Communications Household Survey' involved interviews with 27,000 householders about their use of computers, the internet and types of internet connections. Households were also surveyed about the type of telephony they use (fixed telephone lines, mobile connections, or both); privacy protection; the availability of service packages or 'bundles'; and their use of the European emergency number.

According to the survey, some 54% of Europeans have a computer in their household. This represents an increase of 4% since the end of 2006. The older EU Member States tend to be more computerised (58%) than the 12 newer countries (39%); this disparity widens when comparing individual countries. In Denmark and the Netherlands for example, a total 83% of households own a computer compared to just 29% of Romanian and 20% of Bulgarian households.

The number of people connecting to the internet is also growing, albeit slowly, the survey finds. A total of 42% of households now have internet access at home, representing a slight increase of 2% since the last survey. The penetration rates remain the highest in the Netherlands (80%), Denmark (77%) and Sweden (69%), while the lowest rates - less than 20% - are recorded in Greece, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania.

Broadband - one of the key indicators of the growth of Europe's knowledge economy - would appear to be gaining ground, with a total of 28% of European households now benefiting. In all the countries surveyed, with the exception of four, a noteworthy increase in the share of households having a broadband connection was observed. The countries with the largest visible increases were already among those last year with the highest penetration rates, such as Denmark (+11%), Belgium (+9%), the UK (+9%), Estonia (+9%) and Malta (+9%). Meanwhile, broadband penetration rates have remained static in Italy, Austria, Cyprus and Sweden.

Of those using broadband technology, Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) continues to be the most widely used means to connect to the internet. In France for example, 88% of households with the internet use an ADSL connection. The traditional dial-up connection appears to be more popular in the countries where there are significant rural populations, such as Ireland, whereas cable TV network connections are widespread in Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Portugal, Lithuania, Latvia and Austria.

Also taking Europe by storm is wireless internet connections (Wifi). A total of 34% of households now use a wifi router instead of a modem to connect to the internet, compared to 27% at the end of 2006. Wifi technology appears to be most widespread in Luxembourg, Spain and France, where over half of households with internet access have a wifi router. Conversely, less than 20% of households in Latvia, Greece, Lithuania, Slovenia and Poland use this technology.

As the numbers of households that go digital continue to increase, so do the problems of data protection and security, finds the survey. A total of 28% of Europeans that have internet access say that spam and viruses have caused them significant problems. For some, spam and viruses have lead to a computer breakdown, or lost or altered data.

Representatives of households with a computer and internet access were asked whether they have installed antispam or antivirus software. The survey reveals that most people tend to be more concerned by viruses than spam. Some 81% of respondents said they installed antivirus programs while 60% have antispam software on their computer. The software tends to be downloaded for free from the internet.

The results of the survey are expected to be fed into the ongoing public debate on the reform of the EU Telecom Rules, planned for the coming months.

'Europe's digital economy is growing strongly as more and more households embrace convergence between fixed, mobile and internet services,' said Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding. 'The challenge of this year's reform of the EU's telecom rules will be to respond to this rapidly changing technological environment while enhancing at the same time effective competition.'

E-Communications household survey


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