Internet use affects people’s lives in a variety of ways and many aren’t immediately obvious. For instance, studies show that internet usage positively affects how open and accepting people are to other cultures and other ways of life.
In Europe, internet penetration has topped 85%, a figure that’s far above the global average, but across the continent national figures vary widely. As of 2016, 190 million people had a broadband internet connection. More than two-thirds of people who have internet access are using the internet on a daily basis.
Total internet use across Europe
Overall, home internet access in Europe is high, but while in some countries internet penetration is well over 90%, in others it’s struggling to top 60% to 70%. For the most part, central Europe is leading the way, while Eastern Europe is lagging behind in terms of home internet connectivity.
Between 2007 and 2016, the percentage of European Union citizens with home internet access increased from 55% to 85%.
Contrasts in internet access across Europe
High-speed broadband that’s both accessible and affordable is one of the most important ways to promote the development of a well-informed society. While overall internet penetration is high within the EU, there are significant differences between those countries with the highest internet usage rates, and those with the lowest.
Across all of Europe, 82% of people used in the internet in 2016, with Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, and Germany leading the way in terms of connectivity. In these countries, over 90% of people are internet users. Within the EU, the countries with the highest home internet access rates are Luxembourg and The Netherlands, each of which have achieved rates of 97%. Of those with internet access, 83% of people use broadband internet.
However, in other EU countries the story is very different: internet is less widely available, and usage is much lower. For instance, as of 2016 70% of Portuguese are internet users; in Greece and Portugal the figure is at 69%. Romania and Bulgaria have the lowest rates of internet usage, at 60% and 59% respectively. For some countries these figures increased slightly in the following year. Romania, for example, had climbed to 62.8% by 2017, and Portugal to 72.4%, but in Greece and Bulgaria the figures remained unchanged.
In the so-called EU candidate nations—including Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovinia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey—internet penetration ranges from 66% in Albania and 67% in Serbia, to 80% in Kosovo. Overall internet penetration in these countries is at 69.6%.
countries, there are also differences in internet use that depend on other factors. One of the most prominent is the divide between people in urban areas and people in rural locations.
In urban areas, an average of 88% of people have home internet access. Towns and suburban areas have almost the same level of access, at 86%. In rural areas, the figure drops to 80%. However, this is a continent-wide average, and the breakdown by country indicates that in countries where overall internet access is low, the gap between urban and rural internet access is much wider. In fact, it may be the lack of rural internet access that is bringing down the overall figures for those countries with the lowest internet penetration rates, such as Romania and Bulgaria.
Usage behaviour in the EU
Overall in the EU, 71% of people use the internet on a daily basis. Around half of EU citizens use online banking. Social media use is similarly widespread, with 52% of people using social media networks in 2016. Both men and women use the internet for entertainment purposes—56% of men and 51% of women use the internet at least once a week for watching TV shows and films.
Mobile versus home internet use in Europe
As might be expected, patterns of mobile internet use mimic those which have already been noted for home internet use and overall internet penetration. The general trend is that countries where internet penetration is highest also have the highest rates of mobile internet use. However, while home and work internet access is achieving near-saturation rates in some countries, mobile internet penetration still lags behind somewhat. In Western Europe, around 62.% of the population owned smartphones in 2017, while in Central and Eastern Europe, limited access in several countries puts the regional average at 43.6%,
Worldwide, mobile internet penetration is high, at 3.7 billion unique users as of 2017. And mobile devices account for 49.7% of web page views worldwide. As expected, Europe has one of the highest mobile penetration rates, at 76.6%. Europe is second only to the Americas in this regard, where the mobile penetration rate is at 78.2%.
Interestingly, it’s Asia and Africa that are leading the way in terms of mobile web page views, rather than Europe or the Americas. Both Africa and Asia have become “mobile first” markets where it’s easier for companies to market and sell mobile devices than laptop or desktop computers. In large part this is simply because it’s more accessible, affordable, and convenient for users to maintain an internet connection using mobile rather than home internet. Therefore, on these continents people are using their mobile connections more often, rather than splitting internet use between mobile, work, and home connections as in Europe and the Americas.
On the Way to Developing a Digital Europe
There are significant differences between and within countries in terms of internet penetration, internet access, and mobile internet usage. While some countries are adapting quickly and easily to the digital revolution, for others progress is coming much more slowly. This is especially true in isolated rural areas, as well as in a small number of countries both within and outside the EU.
As Europe focuses on the development of a single digital economy, the push to extend internet access in those countries that are lagging behind is sure to become stronger in the coming years. If Europe is to develop a fully-functional single digital economy it’s vital that the divide between rural and urban internet access, as well as that which exists between different countries in the EU, be explored and addressed.