One-quarter of Europeans offline, and have never seen a LOLcat

Around 100 million Europeans have never been online, casting doubt over how far the Internet actually reaches. It seems governments are stalling in hope 4G could solve the problem.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

"Never mind the Euro crisis," one report reads.

Around 100 million people across the European Union are offline, and have never used the web. It's figures like that which suggest the 'Internet' is not as globally-reaching as one might ordinarily think.

It's a shocking thought that Europe, home of some of the world's leading defence, computing, and technology companies, has nearly a quarter of its population that has never seen a LOLcat, or the wonder that is the Sneezing Panda.

(Image source: Flickr)

New figures suggest that 24 percent of 16--74 year olds across the 27 member states of the European Union have never been online.

In a similarly depressing figure, over 10 percent of the UK has never used the Internet. Though the figure has dropped from just shy of 30 percent in 2006, it still shows that nearly 7 million people are without web access at home.

The UK's communications regulator believes that more people could be accessing the web through mobile devices and smartphones, leading to a mismatch in the figures.

Eurostat, the European Union's statistics agency, said that just under half the population of Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece and Portugal do not have a home Internet connection.

The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Sweden and Denmark all recorded at least the 90 percent mark in home users accessing the web.

But while there has been a massive jump in Internet access amongst European citizens over the past five years, the gap between the lowest and the highest access nations shows how far local economies have to work.

While 45 percent of the population is connected in Bulgaria, 94 percent of all Dutch households have a web connection.

One would think that the disparity arises between the poor not being able to afford such a 'luxury' -- though has been deemed now a fourth utility, and a 'human right' -- as well as the older generation's reluctance to get online.

Ultimately it falls down to government's not putting in the effort.

Governments are simply not putting the effort in to rebuild poor communications infrastructures, and lacking efforts to install high-speed Internet access. While states pledge 'Internet access for all', the recession has taken its toll, and many of these promises are failing in the eyes of the public.

The UK as one example promises to boost high-speed broadband access.

I recall only a few years ago under the previous Labour government a '50p tax', for which each landline-owning household in the UK would be charged 50 pence ($0.77) per month to supply a dedicated government broadband fund.

Considering we pay around 70p ($1.10) per year each to support the Royal family, the landline tax was not such a bad deal.

It was then-government policy then to 'tax' each household for only a year or two, generating an estimated £240--300 million ($371--460 million) per year to help boost local and particularly rural broadband.

We did not focus on high-speed 'inter-connected' cities that already had at least 2 Mbps broadband even in the poorest areas. The government instead made a pledge to get everyone online with at least 2 Mbps broadband by 2015.

Where is that now? It's probably in the deep, dark depths of the Treasury, buried under the vast amount of Parliamentary expenses.

Perhaps it will fall down to the private sector to roll out vast areas of major cities and rural areas with 4G coverage. London is already covered, and some areas of rural south-west England are experiencing trials. But for many, expensive 4G broadband will be the lifeline that so many people need.

It's hard to keep up with UK broadband policy at the best of times, let alone across Europe's member states. It seems that the necessity of government -- particularly that of shifting policy -- is getting in the way of firm promises that could benefit millions of people.


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