The Internet is no longer the preserve of a rich elite, according to figures released on Thursday.
Internet monitoring firm NetValue has found that more than a quarter of all Net users earn less than £600 per month (£7,200 a year) with only 8.3 percent made up from earners in the £4,000-plus bracket (earning over £48,000). This will be a welcome shot in the arm to the government's universal access campaign, which in recent weeks has suffered setbacks.
The change in Internet demographics is not altogether unexpected, according to NetValue. Mostly, it should be regarded as good news, especially for online businesses seeking to widen their reach on the Net. "These figures show that the Web is being welcomed by low income earners, said NetValue's vice president Alki Manias.
"Online businesses have to recognise that the Internet market is every bit as diverse as the high street market, and not limited to big earners. It is finally getting into the mass market."
Commercial enterprises have long since argued that mass market take-up is crucial for the development of the e-commerce. Manias believes that cheaper and more publicised Internet access deals are two of the biggest factors driving low-income households on to the Net.
"Access is cheaper and we are heading towards a flat-rate model," he said. However, if ISPs want to reap the benefits of greater uptake when and if they move to broadband then they must make sure the price is right. "If broadband comes along at the right price point it will have a ready market," Manias added.
While NetValue does not measure the number of users to make online purchases it has found that three-quarters of Internet users in the UK visited an e-commerce site in April, with half of these going to a secure section of the site where customers hand over credit card details.
Amazon.co.uk continues to be the top retail Web site in the UK, attracting 1.6 million visitors in April. MSN.com was the most popular domain with 56 percent of all users visiting the site. In second place was Yahoo.com and in third place Freeserve. According to NetValue the UK gained 800,000 new home Internet users in April and the total now stands at 13.5 million.
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