The number of European households able to access the internet has increased in absolute terms to the same level as the USA, according to a study by Eurobarometer, the market research unit of the European Commission.

The study revealed a 55% increase between March and October 2000, with 28% of EU households now online. Forty percent of Europeans (including occasional surfers) have access to the web – equivalent to approximately 375 million EU citizens online versus 270m in the USA.

Increasing liberalisation of the telecoms market is one explanation for the surging number of Eurosurfers. During the period studied, the cost of accessing the web fell by an average of 23% – in some areas by as much as 47% – compared to the same period in 1999.

In addition to the general rise in usage, internet access among schools climbed at an even faster rate – 80% are now online for educational purposes according to the Commission.

“This is the first estimate we've made since the launch of the eEurope Action Plan,” commented the EC’s web spokesman Per Haugaard. “It shows that our efforts to bring prices down, lift skills up and boost consumer confidence are going in the right direction.”

However, the EC added a word of warning to e-tailers: most web usage is still passive, with the majority of surfers seeking and downloading information rather than spending money. “The whole potential of the internet is not yet fully exploited in terms of e-commerce and other interactive services,” observed an EC statement.

News Source: AdAge Global