May 21, 2001

In the developed world, the Internet is literally in your face. Opportunities to go online are everywhere, and an estimated 400 hundred million people use the World Wide Web daily.

Yet according to international research firm Ipsos-Reid, billions of people have neither heard of the Internet nor have any intention of going online anytime soon. Even in countries such as the United States, Canada, Sweden, and the Netherlands, about one-third of people who could use the Internet choose not to. In fact, of the world’s 6 billion citizens, only about 6% are online. Why?

"The answer is twofold", says Brian Cruikshank, a senior vice president with Ipsos-Reid and leader of the company’s global technology practice. "In the developed world, a substantial number of people who could very easily go online have decided not to. They see no compelling reason to be on the Web. The hype and the promise of the Internet clearly hasn't impressed them—not yet, at least. For others in nascent, less developed markets, the cost of accessing the Internet competes with the cost for basic necessities and access availability is very limited outside of urban areas."

As part of its global research program, Ipsos-Reid talked to people in 30 countries who aren’t on the Internet and who say they have no plans to be. The most frequently mentioned reasons for staying offline are "have no need for the Internet" (40%), "no computer" (33%), "no interest" (25%), "don’t know how to use it" (16%), "cost" (12%), or "no time" (10%). (For Internet usage rates by country, see chart.

In lesser developed countries, where access to the Internet is a significant problem because of poverty and lack of a modern communications infrastructure, cost and access are cited as barriers more often than they are in major industrialized countries.

In urban India and urban South Africa, only one-quarter of the population has access to the Internet, and fewer than 10% of people report being recent users, the company found. In urban Russia, 83% of respondents reported having no Internet access at all.

"Those growing up on the Internet will one day make up the bulk of the population and there will be very few non-users down the road", Cruikshank says. "But that’s maybe an entire generation away in many developing markets. In the meantime, you still have a massive group - that is not going to disappear overnight - of potential users who have the means yet are still not convinced of the Web’s merits."

"The next crest of the Internet wave will come from markets that are already well along the way—particularly in Western Europe-with the most capacity for upside surprises, since their social structures and communications infrastructures offer few barriers", Cruikshank says. He continues, "In these countries, it’s simply a matter of time before more people go online-we have already started to see Europeans representing a larger proportion of the global Internet population."

The study offers the caveat that in other parts of the world, there are simply not enough access opportunities to go around. In other words, there are more adults with intentions of going online than there are adults with Internet access. These countries include South Korea and urban markets in Malaysia, India, Mexico, and South Africa.

"Far from being dead, the Internet has a large growth potential everywhere, but progress is destined to be slower than its most enthusiastic advocates might have envisioned a few years ago", concludes Cruikshank. To expand the reach of the Web in developing countries, he says, public venues-libraries, schools, offices and Internet cafés - will have to play a more crucial role.

Still, widespread availability is a long way off in the most populated areas of the world. Overall, Ipsos-Reid found that 98% of respondents own a television, 51% own a cell phone, 48% own a home computer—but only 36% have home Internet access.


These international survey research data were collected via Ipsos-Reid’s Global Express, a quarterly international omnibus survey. Fieldwork was conducted in November and December 2000. Data are based on individual surveys taken with a random sampling of adults (18+) across 35 national markets. The target sample size in each country was 500, except for the United States and Germany, where 1,000 interviews were conducted, India, where 1,700 interviews were conducted, and Turkey, where 1,200 interviews were conducted. Within each country, the survey results can be said to be within at least ± 4.5 percentage points of what they would have been had the entire adult population been surveyed (± 3.1 percentage points in the United States, ± 2.9 percentage points in Turkey, and ± 2.4 percentage points in India). In 20 of these 35 surveyed countries, the samples provide full national coverage; in these countries the data were collected via randomized telephone interviewing, with the exception of Poland, where in-person door-to-door interviewing was conducted. Door-to-door interviewing was also used in the non-national samples, whether quasi-national in representation (Malaysia, Egypt, Argentina, Turkey, and Philippines) or urban only (Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, China, South Africa, India, Russia, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Chile, and Thailand) where the sample coverage was limited to large cities.

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