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Tuesday, 11 July, 2000, 00:07 GMT 01:07 UK
The world wide what?

The internet is steamrolling its way into all of our lives and that's the way we like it. Right? Wrong. A quarter of the UK population don't intend to go online...ever. By BBC News Online's Jonathan Duffy.

Millions of Britons who have rejected going online will find it increasingly hard to keep to their word.

According to a survey by Which? Online, published on Tuesday, a quarter of the UK population - more than 15 million people - never intend to hook up to the internet.

High costs and a feeling that the net is irrelevant are the two main reasons for this reluctance.
Blair at a laptop
Tony Blair wants the nation online by 2005

On the surface, the findings look like a serious blow to Tony Blair's plans to get all British households wired by 2005.

But internet analyst Nick Gibson says many will buckle under the weight of the hi-tech revolution, although they might not realise it when they do.

While millions may refuse to pass down the personal computer route, they will go online through their televisions, mobile phones and computer games consoles.

"In a few years people will not recognise the internet. Already, it is a slightly dated concept because the technology has broadened," says Mr Gibson, of consultancy Durlacher.

By the back door

"Access to digital networks will touch the vast majority of the population within five to 10 years."

Question to those without internet access (Which? Online survey)

Mr Gibson says this is because internet-technology will become a seamless part of everyday life. So rather than consciously going on the net, people will use it without thinking.

Trends analyst Anne Nugent says every new technology has its late adopters - people who initially shun developments but eventually get sucked in.

She points out that 10 years ago, millions of people would never have dreamed of buying a mobile phone. Yet figures last week show, for the first time, those without a mobile are now in the minority.

"Some people originally thought a mobile very anti-social. Those very people have seen that it has a social advantage," says Ms Nugent, of Euromonitor.

As with mobiles, the falling cost of getting online is likely to make a big difference.

Cost is bottom line

While the main barrier uncovered by the Which? survey is the perceived irrelevance of the internet, cost was the principle obstacle for those under 35.
Boy on a railway track
Poverty is leading to a digital divide

The drive for unmetered access will attract some converts, but many more will be won over by the shift to digital TV, says internet analyst Gerry Mulvin, of Bain and Co.

"The TV is controllable. Personal computers are complicated, but television is a medium many people understand."

The fact that digital TV offers only selected internet content, will also reassure parents.

"Many adults are worried about what their children might find on the net and know they will be able to control it better on a TV, which is a walled garden for the internet."

Results of another internet survey, carried out by the government's Office of National Statistics and published on Monday, show a growing "digital divide" between rich and poor.

Mr Mulvin says poorer households - those in the C, D and E demographic groups - struggle to see why the internet is relevant to them.
Pensioner using the internet
Many pensioners say the internet is not for them. But others disagree

"They think the information on the net is long and tedious. They do not travel a lot and have a relatively straight-forward lifestyle, so their need for information is not as acute."

Paul Kitchen, head of Which? Online, agrees that eventually digital networks will absorb users rather than vice versa, but he is surprised at some peoples' ongoing hostility to the internet.

Last year, 55% of those without net access said they didn't think they would ever get connected. While that has fallen to 52% this year, Mr Kitchen is alarmed the figure was still so high.

"When you're talking about e-government and getting people to vote on the internet, this shows that alternative arrangements will have to be made for a considerable proportion of people," says Mr Kitchen.

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