Europe Internet Penetration Up Sharply

Internet penetration among European Union member states grew by more than half in the six months from March to October of this year — from 18 percent to 28 percent, according to a European Commission report released last month.

In fact, however, the increase was much larger among the more advanced European Internet states, said Peer Halgaard, spokesman for Erkki Liikanen, the commissioner responsible for Web development.

“Some of our member states are at the same level as the U.S. and even beyond that,” Halgaard said, citing Scandinavia and the Netherlands. Low penetration levels in Italy, Greece and Portugal brought down overall figures.

The numbers were released before the EU summit in Nice, France, earlier this month as part of the eEurope 2002 Update. The EU adopted an Internet action plan at a summit meeting held in Portugal in March.

Halgaard said that the EC would publish more detailed figures in January and February and that those figures would be updated regularly “so as to provide official pan-European statistics on Internet use and e-commerce.”

EEurope, the report said, “has had broad policy impact, strengthening existing initiatives and fostering the development of new ones,” not only at governmental levels, both European and national, but at private levels as well.

“Governments and administrations, including the commission, have recognized that the 'new economy,' and particularly the Internet, pose challenges to the legislative framework.

“The Internet is a cross-border medium where new ways of doing business are developing. It is very quickly changing the market context and the facto 'rules of the game.' “

The report listed several initiatives to push the growth of e-commerce and Internet use:

• It said smart cards were not developing as rapidly within the EU because a common standard is lacking. The EC has set up 12 industry working groups to come up with solutions.

• The EC plans to spend 150 million euros (about $140 million) to speed use of European digital content and “promote linguistic diversity on European Web sites.”

• Online education should be promoted, with more schools and libraries connected to the Web. The EC also plans to fund more research in the Internet area.

Liikanen called the figures “very encouraging” but said Europe still faced many challenges, such as better Internet security, better cooperation at the community level and more contact with EU candidate countries.

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