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Wednesday, 22 August, 2001, 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK
French failing to click
Hand hovering over mouse
French slow to click with the internet
By BBC News Online's Alfred Hermida

The French are lagging behind their European counterparts when it comes to the internet, with only one in five online at home, according to a new official report.

More worryingly, the study found that only 6% expected to go online in the coming year and more than half the people surveyed did not foresee ever connecting to the internet from home.

The report by the Ministry of Finance, Economy and Industry has reinforced fears of the slow growth on the internet in France.

Two years ago, just one in 12 French people logged on from home.

Computers came late

The French are not as technologically advanced compared to, say, Scandinavians

Olivier Beauvillain, Jupiter MMXI analyst
"There are cultural reasons for this," explained Olivier Beauvillain, an analyst at internet research firm Jupiter MMXI in Paris.

"The French are not as technologically advanced compared to, say, Scandinavians.

"Computers came late into government and the education system," he added. "If people could communicate with government through that internet, or pay their taxes online, that would be a good driver."

The study suggests a digital divide is emerging in France, with the well-educated and wealthy more interested in the internet than the less-educated and the low-paid.

France is falling well behind other western European countries such as Britain, where 60% are now logging on from home.

The European country with a comparable slow growth is Spain, where only 20% use the internet from home.

Few reasons for optimism

The French Government is keen to promote the benefits of the internet in areas such as education and business.

Key findings
One in 12 online from home in October 1999
One in five online from home in April 2001
6% to go online in a year
More than half have no plans to go online
But the report will provide few reasons for optimism. Most people could not see the point of going online. For others the main obstacle was not owning a personal computer. A small number just saw the internet as too complicated.

For young people, an additional factor was the cost of going online.

For some, the reason is that the web is not 'French' enough, with many French web users annoyed by the proliferation of English language sites.

Analysts at Jupiter say that even though growth will be steady, just 40% of households will be connected to the web by 2005.

The French appear far more keen on mobile phones. By May this year more than half had a mobile, compared to only a quarter owning a PC.

"One thing that needs to be addressed in France is the use of the internet in schools," said Mr Beauvillain.

"We are still far from having one computer per pupil."

Despite attempts by the government to encourage the growth of the internet, the main telephone company, France Telecom, has resisted the introduction of flat-rate charges to allow unlimited web access.

E-business challenge

Any company trying to take advantage of the internet to grow their business would find it hard going in France.

The study found most people used the internet to look for information or exchange messages.

Just over 10% had ever bought anything online and more than half said they did not trust the internet to buy online.

"France is trailing in e-commerce," admitted Mr Beauvillain. "People are afraid of leaving their credit cards details online."

One pointer to the future could be the old Minitel system, which combines a basic online text service with the telephone.

Despite showing its age, it is still used by 15 million French consumers, who turn to it for banking and shopping.

Analysts say that as people become more comfortable with the web, they will be more confident about shopping online.

See also:

07 Aug 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: France
19 Apr 01 | Business
France Telecom: Battling debt
20 Aug 01 | Business
UK internet usage surges
22 May 00 | Business
UK e-commerce bigger, say analysts
06 Oct 98 | Sci/Tech
France's Minitel set for revolution
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