Families turn away from the internet
Dec 16 2005
Tryst Williams, Western Mail
INTERNET access in Welsh households has "peaked" at a surprisingly low 41%, a Welsh Consumer Council report shows today.
According to the study, Wales is in danger of getting left behind by the online revolution while access across the rest of the UK has continued to rise to 55%.
Large swathes of Wales now have less internet access than three years ago;
More that half (56%) of Welsh people say they do not use the internet at all - whether at home, work or any other setting;
The number of young adults with internet access has actually dropped by 9% over the past year;
Internet access figures for Wales have reached a plateau in the last few years.
Report author Sarah Richards last night described the figures as "worrying".
"In the 12 months leading up to March 2005 internet access has remained static at 41% of households," she said.
"This suggests that people's resistance to the internet and the persistence of the 'digital divide' has to remain a prominent issue for politicians and organisations in Wales."
She added, "We were quite surprised by the data and weren't expecting to see it.
"We don't know if it's a blip but it's definitely something that needs to be monitored."
Of particular concern to experts was that young people aged between 16 and 24 seem to be turning away from online services.
One reason put forward for that drop - from 66% to 57% - was that the survey looked specifically at computer access to the internet, even though people are increasingly able to browse websites through their mobile phones and games consoles.
But one expert suggested poverty and the lack of distinctive Welsh-based content may be behind the apparent switch-off by the nation's next generation.
Dr Mike Reddy, a lecturer in future technology and robotics at the University of Wales, Newport, said, "Young people may have jumped onto the internet and can't sustain it.
"They're not getting what they need and looking at the money they're spending each month.
"At the moment it's not seen as an essential utility - but it will be."
He added, "There's not much of a Welsh presence on the internet. I think if people took that up and put a Welsh flavour to services I think people would feel they were getting a direct benefit from the internet."
The new report, Internet Inequality in Wales: Update 2005, is the sixth annual survey to be commissioned by the consumer council.
Based on interviews with 1,001 adults across Wales in March the results appear to show a deepening "digital divide" between the nation's haves and have-nots.
The number of home internet connections in the South Wales Valleys has seen the biggest decrease, down from 37% in 2004 to 26% in 2005.
Alarmingly, figures for home internet access in the South Wales Valleys and mid West Wales are now lower than in 2002.
Miss Richards feared hundreds of thousands of Welsh people could miss out as businesses put more and more of their services online.
"Our concern is that as we all rush to use the internet as our primary source of information sharing there will inevitably be some who get left out," she added.
"Typically the people who don't access the internet are generally on a lower income, are unemployed/retired and are above 65.
"It may be that businesses decide not to target these potential customers, however, it is essential that those providing public services maintain other forms of communication."
There was some consolation that internet access among the 55-64 age group had seen the biggest growth in Wales.
But overall the picture remained bleak with the proportion of Welsh households connected to the internet lagging 14% behind the latest Government figures for the rest of Britain.
Miss Richards added, "The idea that young people in Wales are turning away from accessing the internet is also a particular worry, however, this may be explained by advances in technology and the development of other ways of accessing information.
"It would seem that internet penetration has begun to slow and so any new marketing strategy, targeting these groups in particular, will need to have a strong benefit-led emphasis.
"Although, I think we need to also be realistic and recognise that there are consumers who simply have no interest in getting connected. Because of this, service providers cannot simply rely on the internet as a panacea for their communication strategies."
However, the findings were yesterday disputed by Assembly body Broadband Wales.
Andrew Pirutz, head of marketing, said their latest survey, due out early next year, suggested internet access was continuing to grow across Wales especially in the broadband sector.
Internet uptake in Wales stagnating
By Staff Writer | 21 Dec 2005
Despite high-budget marketing strategies and BT’s claim that Wales has 94 per cent broadband availability, internet uptake in Wales is stagnating in comparison to that in the rest of the UK, reveals the 2005 report into Internet Inequality in Wales, recently published by by the Welsh Consumer Council (WCC).
Sarah Richards, policy officer at the WCC, comments: "In the twelve months leading up to March 2005, internet access has remained static at 41 per cent of households. This suggests that people's resistance to the internet and the persistence of the 'digital divide' has to remain a prominent issue for politicians and organisations in Wales."
Though Richards admits that not everyone can have an interest in the new technology and that some may never want to use it, she is urging the government to target its future marketing campaigns to address those who have been left out, typically lower income earners, the unemployed and retired people.
A worrying finding is that home internet connections in the Valleys have dramatically decreased, from 37 per cent in 2004 to 26 per cent in 2005. The report sees this as a major step backwards, considering the percentage is now lower than it was in 2002.
Richards says: "These statistics are a cause for concern, as mid Wales and the Valleys are among the most remote and economically deprived areas in the whole country."
Surprisingly enough, the report shows a decrease in individual internet access among young people (57 per cent) compared to 66 per cent in the previous year; while the biggest increase in home internet connections is to be found in the 55-64 age group.
Richards remarks: “The idea that young people in Wales are turning away from accessing the internet is also a particular worry, however, this may be explained by advances in technology and the development of other ways of accessing information.”
Households that are most likely to have internet access are those including three or more people (54 per cent as opposed to 21 per cent for households with just one person) or those with dependent children, which may explain the lower rate of internet connections among older people, who are less likely to have dependent children.
On the other hand, figures regarding broadband penetration show an increase since last year with over half of households (55 per cent) connected to broadband.
Paradoxically, although lower income earners are less likely to get internet access, those who do are more likely to have a broadband connection than people from higher social classes. People living in the Valleys too are more likely to have a broadband connection even though the rate of internet access has dropped in this area.
However lack of awareness could impede the adoption of broadband as 21 per cent of people without a home internet connection believe broadband is not available in their area. Those with a home internet connection usually refuse broadband on the grounds that they don’t want it (27 per cent) and that it is too expensive (25 per cent).
Despite this plateau, those who do have access to internet in Wales increasingly use it for online shopping (61 per cent by March 2005 compared to 55 per cent in 2004). Men aged 45 and over are particularly keen on this method. Both men and women find online shopping convenient and cheaper.
This is the fifth report into internet inequality in Wales, conducted annually over the last six years. Since the study first began, the most noticeable changes include the rise in broadband availability and the increase in people using the internet to shop online.