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Tuesday, 11 July, 2000, 00:04 GMT 01:04 UK
Some Britons still refuse to surf
Surf BBC
Come on in, the web's lovely
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

Nearly 15 million British adults have no plans to use the internet, according to the third annual Which? Online survey.

Almost a third of those questioned think the internet is too expensive to use and has nothing on it that is relevant to their lives.

The survey also found that those who are online use it more and more to do their shopping.

The authors of the survey warn that if a sizeable group of people remains turned off by the internet, the UK risks becoming polarised into a nation of "have-nets" and "have-nots".

The findings follow hard on the release on Monday of official government statistics that show one in four homes in the UK are now wired to the web.

Counting connections

The Which? Online survey, conducted with the help of polling organisation Mori, questioned almost 2,000 people to get an idea of the changing nature of net use in the UK and how attitudes towards it are changing.

It reveals that the UK's online population now numbers around 13m people. The biggest increase in the online population has been among less affluent families.

This is the evidence that people are going different ways and the digital divide is growing bigger

Paul Kitchen, Which? Online

It is a finding slightly at odds with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) data that suggest low-income groups are being left out of the net revolution.

Which? Online says many poorer families are signing up to use the web to ensure that their children do not fall behind at school.

Paul Kitchen, head of Which? Online, says this is evidence that the net is truly going mainstream and is no longer the preserve of the richer middle classes.

While the majority of people surfing are still men - women make up only 25% of the net population - older people are going online in increasing numbers.

World Wide Won't

"They've got disposable time and disposable income," says Mr Kitchen, explaining the rise of the "silver surfer".

But it is also in this age group that the largest proportion of people who say they will never go online is found.

Survey statistics
Online population is 13 million
33% are online for more than 5 hours per week
52% say they will never get connected
25% of non-users don't know what the net is for
58% of people are worried about fraud on the net
23% of those online buy via the web
89% think that customer service is worse on the web
64% think the net has become part of everyday life

While slightly fewer people this year (52%) than last year (55%) say they do not think the internet is for them, this still leaves over a third of Britons unmoved by the interest surrounding the internet.

Mr Kitchen says many are put off by the high cost of buying a computer and worries about the phone bills they might run up.

"It might be that they never go online while access is through a PC," he says. About 97% of those questioned use a PC to access the internet but nearly 30% are looking forward to using their TV to do the same job.

The advent of unmetered surfing and internet access via TV and mobile phones might change peoples' minds about using the web, says Mr Kitchen.

No internet interest

The vast numbers of British people using mobile phones and sending SMS text messages is evidence that people are not luddites, he believes.

Mr Kitchen points out that with enough handsets in the country for half the population there must be some overlap between those offline and those with a mobile phone.

"Half of the people we asked are fed up with being chained to a PC," he says.

The survey also found that those who are online are making ever more use of it.

Between the surveys in 1998 and 1999, there was no increase in the amount of time that people spent surfing. Now over a third connect for more than five hours per week. Last year the figure was 25%.

A small minority, 10%, surf for more than 15 hours per week.

Mr Kitchen said the figures contained a warning for politicians keen to use the web to make Britain a better place in which to live. "This is the evidence that the groups are going different ways and the digital divide is growing bigger."

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey of net usage released on Monday suggested the less well-off were being left behind in the net revolution.

The ONS figures, based on information from 7,000 households across the UK, showed that in the lowest income groups as few as 3% have home access, compared with nearly 50% in the higher groups.

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