A quarter of the UK has no intention of joining the wired revolution according to a Which? report published Tuesday.
Which? Online's third annual report -- Can't Surf, Won't Surf -- finds that while Internet usage, online shopping and the use of TV and mobile devices for surfing are all on the increase, a significant number of Brits have no desire to join the Internet society.
Head of Which? Online Paul Kitchen believes there is an important message here for government and businesses alike. "If 15 million people never intend to go online and the government moves to electronic voting and banks put all their business online the question is; will there be an alternative?" he says.
"In the rush towards the digital nation there will always be some people who don't want to take part. It is a problem that remains to be cracked. There is disenfranchisement going on."
The good news for Tony Blair is that 13 million people are now surfing in the UK and they are surfing for longer: between six and seven hours per week. Two thirds regard the Net as an integral part of everyday life.
There's good news for shops on the Net too: Six million have dabbled in online shopping -- up from four million last year -- with a quarter regularly buying on the Net. It would seem that a lot of people are using the Internet for everyday goods with one in twenty surfers buying their groceries online. 30 percent of people now regard the Net as a threat to the traditional High Street.
Although Net shopping is perceived as cheaper than shopping in the off-line world, a worrying nine out of 10 shoppers are dissatisfied with the quality of service they get from e-tailers. According to Kitchen, with good reason: "The shop front is there but where most people fall down is on customer care. Goods don't arrive in time, there is a lack of communication when complaints are made and the wrong goods turn up."
While the PC is still king of the Internet access market, one in 14 people claim to have accessed the Internet via mobile phone or digital TV although another report suggests sales of WAP phones have been disappointing.
Over half believe that they will soon be using one digital device for all their communication and one in three are looking forward to access via the TV. One in eight surfers use cyber cafes.
Men still dominate online with one in three surfers men compared to one in five women. It also seems the Net has finally broken through the class divide with more new surfers coming from social categories C and D than from A and B. "There are more tabloid readers coming online than broadsheet readers," Kitchen says.
For those still unsure of the benefits of being wired, a lack of understanding is cited by one in three as the main reason for staying off the Net. Cost of getting online is also a factor.
It seems though the Internet is yet to shake off its image as a hotbed of fraudsters and pornographers: 58 percent still regard porn and fraud as the biggest threats on the Web, a statistic which has stayed constant for the three years Which? has conducted the survey.
Recent headlines about the Love bug and other hacking attempts have left their mark -- 30 percent of respondents are now concerned that the Internet poses a threat to our national security.
Take me to the e-commerce special.