The hitherto unstoppable internet bandwagon in Britain appears to be slowing, according to the latest quarterly report from telecoms watchdog Oftel.

The growth in UK web usage, both at work and at home, has been exponential over the past three years. In the last quarter, however, the survey conducted by Mori shows a marginal decline in home-based users, down from 40% of all UK households to 39%. It is, of course, premature to judge whether this is anything more than a blip on the upward growth curve.

Despite the apparent standstill, Britons are spending more time online – on average eight hours weekly, although this figure is distorted by a small group of intensive users. The majority of households record around five hours of surfing a week.

Accessing the internet from the workplace has remained on a plateau for some months, although many surfers log most of their online hours either at places of employment, libraries or internet cafés. In aggregate, around half of the adult population claim to access the web on a regular basis.

Usage is at its highest among the ABC1 socio-economic groups, although the report notes a rise over the past year in internet access among C2DE households. The highest penetration of home-connections is in the south-east and south-west of the UK, but only one in four homes in Wales has internet access.

The nation’s leading ISP is Freeserve which is host to nearly one in every five UK surfers. Runners-up are respectively AOL, BT and NTL.

Broadband services have yet to register with consumers, with only 1% wired to a DSL connection. Some observers charge, however, that the laggardly take-up is due less to consumer indifference than BT’s failure to make the service widely available either to businesses or the public.

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