The penetration of regular Internet use in Europe has grown to 39 percent, but with 50 percent of these consumers aged 35 or less, the Internet is still a medium for well-educated young people, according to a new Technographics® Report by Forrester Research B.V. (Nasdaq: FORR). Even now, the Internet has not reached the mainstream population, and technology pessimists remain slow to adopt the Net — mainly held back by high costs and lack of interest.

Online access has taken a real leap forward in Europe in the past couple of years,” said Forrester Analyst Reineke Reitsma. “In 1999, only 19 percent of European consumers aged 16 or older regularly accessed the Net via a PC. By 2001, this number had doubled to 39 percent or 116 million consumers — outperforming Forrester’s earlier predictions. Southern European markets — France, Italy, and Spain — continue to lag European online adoption, with Net penetration rates at 30 percent. The Nordic markets remain in the lead with access rates up at between 60 percent and 70 percent. However, most European surfers connect from Germany or the UK — the two largest online populations in Europe. Germany has the biggest slice of the online pie, with more than 30 million online users, and the UK follows with more than 20 million users.”

Half of all Europeans have access to the Internet in some way and at some location, but only three-quarters of these use the Internet on a regular basis. Most regular online users connect from home — only 13 percent of online users have access from work alone. The location that users connect from impacts their behavior — for instance, work-only users go online for 5 hours per week, 1.7 hours less than home-only users.

“Driven by a need to communicate and falling hardware and connection prices, the number of online users will grow from 39 percent to 67 percent in the next five years — resulting in more than 200 million regular online users by the end of 2006,” Reitsma added. “Germany will lead with 70 percent of its population, or 48.5 million of its citizens, as regular Internet users in 2006. France and Italy show the biggest increase in new, regular online consumers — more than 30 million new users in the next five years — and will account together for more than 40 percent of all new online consumers. Italy will see the most remarkable growth, reaching 68 percent penetration, or 33.1 million regular Internet users, by 2006. The UK will come a close third, achieving 68 percent penetration or 32.8 million regular users. France will be marginally slower, with just 64 percent penetration, or 31.3 million users, in 2006. Online penetration in Scandinavia will reach saturation at 70 percent from 2003 onwards. Austria and Switzerland will continue to grow from 2004 onwards — a result of their high-income levels and high number of technology optimists. Their total regular online penetration will reach 75 percent by 2006.”

For the Report “Europe’s Future Online Consumers,” Forrester conducted a panel survey of 29,354 Europeans aged 16 years or older. The panelists came from 13 markets: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, the UK, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.