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Friday, 7 February, 2003, 09:24 GMT
Internet access hits the wall
Computer screen and keyboard
How can government persuade users to go online?
Half the UK population remains offline, according to the latest research from telecoms watchdog Oftel.

The regulator has found that net take-up is levelling off, despite a huge increase in the uptake of broadband.

Much of the interest in high-speed net services seems to be coming from people who already have a dial-up connection.

In the past year overall figures for both dial-up and broadband net access at home have remained at around 42% of the population in the UK, according to Oftel.

Too pessimistic?

The government remains optimistic that the figure will rise and is launching a campaign in May to persuade the unwired half of the population to get online.

The campaign will consist of national TV adverts and direct mailing and will be specifically aimed at the over-55s, women and ethnic minorities - all of whom are under-represented in current net figures.

"We expect internet access will rise and we want to increase it," said a spokeswoman for the Office of the e-Envoy, the department charged with getting the UK online.

According to analyst firm Jupiter Research, the Oftel figures may be a little pessimistic.

"Internet growth is slowing down dramatically but it hasn't stopped yet," said analyst Dan Stevenson.

Wrong move

People without a PC are most likely to use their friend's computers if they want to get online or to go to an internet café

Dan Stevenson, Jupiter Research
Jupiter predicts it will continue to grow slowly to around 51% in 2007.

"But there is always going to be a digital divide with a significant chunk of the population who don't want to get online," said Mr Stevenson.

One of the main reasons will be the lack of a computer at home.

The government is keen to promote the 6,000 UK Online centres it has dotted around the country as an alternative to home access.

"I think the government is barking up the wrong tree with internet centres," said Mr Stevenson.

"People without a PC are most likely to use their friend's computers if they want to get online or to go to an internet café," he said.

"They are less likely to go to the library and even less likely that they would go to an online centre," he added.

Broadband appeal

Broadband is a critical utility similar to electricity, as opposed to a desirable luxury

Jyoti Choudrie, Brunel University
According to a team of experts from Brunel University's Department of Information Systems and Computing a radical new approach to marketing broadband is needed if fast net services are going to appeal to the half of the population yet to get connected.

In the summer of 2002 the team lead a DTI-sponsored mission to South Korea to see why 60% of the population there has a broadband connection at home.

Marketing broadband around topics vital to everyday Korean's lives - such as targeting ads at mothers and stressing the value of broadband to education - played a vital role in getting such impressive take-up, said team member Dr Jyoti Choudrie.

"We need to understand how to harness broadband to successfully cater for end users' changing needs and preferences," she said.

UK internet providers need to perform a delicate balancing act to make sure users expectations are fulfilled while at the same time creating "an environment where broadband is a critical utility similar to electricity, as opposed to a desirable luxury", said Ms Choudrie.

Drawing on the experience in Korea, Ms Choudrie suggested that education and health services could be the gate-keepers to true mass market adoption of broadband in the UK.

See also:

03 Feb 03 | Technology
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