Third of UK homes still lack internet access

In its 2008 Internet Access report, the Office for National Statistics has revealed that despite the rise of broadband, more than a third of households are without a web connection

While broadband continues its march into ever more homes in the UK, new figures from the Office for National Statistics also reveal that more than a third of households are still going without a web connection.

According to the ONS's 2008 Internet Access report, 65 percent of homes — some 16.46 million households — now have internet access: an increase of 1.23 million households since 2007. And while 35 percent of UK homes remain internet-less, the figure is down from 43 percent two years ago.

Of the homes that have internet access the vast majority (86 percent) are getting the web via fat pipes, while dial-up continues its decline, with connections falling to just nine percent — a one percentage point drop on last year.

Overall, more than half (56 percent) of UK homes now have broadband internet access — an increase of five percentage points on 2007, according to the ONS report.

The statistics also show a digital refusenik attitude is growing among Britons. Of those households that do not have internet access, a larger proportion of respondents said they do not need it or do not want it than two years ago. While other reasons for eschewing the web — such as access or equipment costs being too high — showed little or no increase.

However, the figures also suggest Britons may be becoming slightly more tech savvy across the board: just 15 percent said they don't have web access because of a lack of skills, compared to 24 percent two years ago.

There is also a clear link between a household's level of education and whether it's online, according to the ONS report. Individuals who have no formal qualifications are least likely to have internet connection in their home, at 56 percent now online, while adults under 70 with a university degree or equivalent qualification are most likely (93 percent).

The generation gap in web access persists too — adults aged over 65 are still the least likely to use the web, with 70 percent stating they have never done so. However, there's evidence the gap is shrinking: that figure is down from 82 percent two years ago. Meanwhile, the 16 to 24 age group unsurprisingly used the web the most, with 77 percent using it every day or almost every day.

Although the ONS report shows the most popular place to get online was the home, the number of adults who have accessed the web via wireless laptops and 3G mobiles in the last three months has increased since last year — five percentage points and one percentage point respectively, to 23 percent (laptops) and four percent (mobiles).

For mobile-phone data users, the most popular activity was sending photographs or other video clips. It's a marked difference from the wired world, where sending and receiving emails was the most popular online activity, followed by finding information about goods or services.

The ONS figures also reveal a growing north-south digital divide.

The Southeast is the most connected region, with 74 percent of households having net access in 2008, followed by London with 73 percent and then the East of England (70 percent). While the Northeast has the fewest internet-enabled households (54 percent), followed by the Northwest (56 percent), and the East Midlands and West Midlands (both with 61 percent).

The divide between North and South is getting bigger: back in 2006 there was a 12 percentage point gap between net connectivity in the Southeast and the Northeast. In 2008, that gap has risen to 20 percentage points.

While the general trend is for internet access to keep growing in southern homes but to stagnate in some northern regions, there are exceptions: Yorkshire & Humber web connections, for instance, have jumped 10 percentage points since last year.

The stats also show internet access in Wales has taken a leap forward — rising from 57 percent of homes in 2007 to 67 this year to just overtake England (66 percent) in the league of wired countries.

Northern Ireland remains the least wired area in the UK, with just over half (56 percent) of households connected.