**Global Weekend Kicks Off With Worldwide Internet SurveyNEW ORLEANS - Europe is two years ahead of the US in wireless technology including mcommerce and two to three years ahead in interactive TV, according to Nua Internet Surveys, an Irish web-based publication.
Speaking at the DMA Conference's global weekend that kicked off here on Saturday with seminars that ranged from privacy to logistics, senior editor Kathy Foley said that Europe still lagged in a number of areas.
She said PC penetration was only half that of the US and that in e-commerce Europeans were 12 to 18 months behind in B2B and 18 months to two years in B2C.
Some 161 million people are on line in the US and Canada, she said, while Europe has 105.9 million users. But she noted that a "digital divide" splits the continent with the North and West far ahead of the South and the East.
The EU is beginning to play a major role in Internet development through deregulation of the phone companies and support for early adoption of Internet technology across all sectors, Foley said.
The EU's role, however, is not all positive as Michael Siegert, a German attorney specializing in data protection law, noted in another seminar. Only five of the 15 EU members ban unsolicited e-mail and 10 don't yet the EU is moving to impose a ban across the union.
He warned US companies against setting up e-businesses in Italy and Spain at this point because they have the strictest data protection laws going far beyond the requirements of the EU's data protection directive.
The directive is in the process of being adapted into national law with sharp differences in interpretation among the various EU members.
Italy demands opt-in across the board including written permission before names can be used for DM purposes. But that includes a call center agent writing down that a customer has given him verbal permission.
Foley literally covered the waterfront in her presentation, ranging broadly across Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America.
European regional differences are key, she said. Noting that Scandinavia is clearly the leading edge in Internet penetration and technology, while the UK, Germany and Benelux are the most booming markets.
Ireland has been a surprising success, she said, with e-commerce sales of several billion dollars, more than the combined Internet sales of Eastern and Central Europe where penetration is less than 10 percent. The region, she said, lags three years behind Western Europe.
But she pointed to two small countries - Estonia in the Baltics and Slovenia, once part of Yugoslavia -- as surprise successes. She attributed gains to committed government leadership anxious to push their countries onto the Web.
Asia/Pacific currently has almost 90 million Internet users with 27 million in Japan and almost 17 million in China. Penetration rates are highest in small markets like Singapore, 42 percent, Australia and New Zealand.
She cited India as a place to watch even though it only has 4.5 million on the Web now. Forecasts call for 45 million by 2005 given India's large middle class and highly trained cadres of IT specialists.
Many Indians were drawn to Silicon Valley in recent years, she said, but noted that the flow was slowing as India builds up its own industry and matches relative salaries to keep talented people at home.