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More than half of all Europeans regularly use the internet and the majority of them surf via high-speed connections, according to a report on digital competitiveness compiled by the European Commission, which found that Europe’s digital sector has seen strong growth since 2005 and – in several areas such as broadband and mobile penetration – is a world leader.

The report (pdf), which outlined progress on the Commission’s i2010 initiatives to boost Europe’s competitiveness in information and communications technology (ICT) by increasing investment in new networks, services and creative media content, said that the digital economy and digital users are playing critical roles in lifting Europe out of the current economic crisis:

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Key report findings:

  • The number of regular internet users in Europe has increased from 43% in 2005 to 56% in 2008; most of them use the internet almost daily and with high-speed internet access.
  • Regular internet use is? becoming more inclusive, with the numbers of users in disadvantaged groups (the inactive, the less educated and those ages 55-64) rising the fastest.
  • With 114 million subscribers, Europe is the largest world market and penetration rates are rising swiftly. Half of all European households and more than 80% of European businesses have a fixed broadband connection; three-fourths of them have? average download speeds above 2 Mbps.
  • Broadband internet is available to 93% of the EU25 population, up from 87% in 2005.
  • In terms of country-specific statistics and rankings, The Netherlands, Luxembourg and France have the highest percentages of their population downloading, listening to, or watching music and/or films:

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  • Sweden, The Netherlands, and Denmark have the highest percentages of their population accessing the internet at least once a week:

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  • High rates of broadband connectivity have translated into higher usage of advanced services. Some 80% of regular internet users engage in increasingly interactive activities, e.g. communicating, using online financial services, sharing and creating new content and participating in innovative processes.
  • Europe is still behind the US and Japan in R&D investments in information and communication technologies (ICT), high-speed broadband communications, and developing innovative markets such as online advertising – though it has closed the gap with the US somewhat on this front:

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  • Europe has made fast progress in the supply and use of 20 benchmarked online public services. The supply of fully available services to citizens has increased to 50% in 2007 (27% in 2004) and for businesses to 70% (58% in 2004). One third of European citizens
    and almost 70% of businesses in the EU use eGovernment services.

Mobile Penetration Exceeds 100%

The analysis also noted that the European market for mobile phones has exceeded 100% penetration – increasing from 84% of
the EU population in 2004 to 119% in 2009. This, according to the report, makes Europe the world leader in mobile penetration, since the penetration rates in the US and Japan are around 80%.

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Consumers spend more time talking and texting at prices at least 34.5% lower than in 2004, including a 70% drop in roaming charges since 2005, the EU said.

Digital Natives Lead Way

Those who have grown up using the internet will play a vital role in growing Europe’s economy, according to the report. These young adults between ages 16-24 are the most active internet users in Europe.? Nearly three-fourths (73%) of this age group regularly use advanced services to create and share online content, twice the EU population average (35%).

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Furthermore, two-thirds (66%) of all Europeans under age 24 use the internet every day, compared with the EU average of 43%. These “digital natives” have more advanced internet skills than the rest of the population, according to a separate European Commission study on digital literacy.

Paying Without Saying

Although this digital generation seems reluctant to pay to download or view online content such as videos or music (33% say that they are not willing to pay anything at all, which is twice the EU average), the report said that in reality, twice as many of them have paid for these services compared with the rest of the population (10% of young users, compared with an EU average of 5%). They are also more willing to pay for offers of better service and quality.

“Internet use will soar as Europe’s digital natives begin their professional lives, increasingly shaping and dominating market trends,” the report said, predicting that as traditional business models stall, companies will have to offer services attractive to the next generation of users.

As a result the Commission urged legislators to create conditions that are conducive to the access of new online content while also ensuring remuneration for creators.

M0re Progress Needed

Despite progress, the report also found that one-third of EU citizens have never used the internet and only 7% of consumers have shopped online in another member state. Numbers, the Commission said need to be improved upon.

About the report: The EU’s i2010 strategy to boost Europe’s lead in ICT and unlock the benefits of the information society for European growth and jobs, adopted by the Commission in July 2005 ( IP/05/643 ) comes to a close this year. Endorsed by all EU Member States and the European Parliament, the strategy aimed to strengthen the single market for businesses and users and to stimulate ICT research and innovation.

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