Perspectives of ICT in the New Europe
Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, the Slovack Republic and Slovenia have entered the EU, increasing the population by 75 million citizens. Of the remaining three candidate countries, Bulgaria and Romania hope to become members by 2007, while Turkey wish to begin negotiations by this time.
What is the development of ICT in these countries? The eEurope+ Final Progress Report provide a set of indicators to benchmark the introduction of new technologies into education and everyday life. This article summarizes the main data set by the Report to give an overall view. The eEurope+ Final Progress Report was presented in February 2004 at the European Ministerial Conference "New Opportunities for Growth in an Enlarged Europe".
Internet users are growing faster
In the new member states and candidate countries 66 per cent of households do not possess a PC and 81 per cent do not have access to the Internet. Instead of these difficulties, the number of Internet users has grown by almost 60 per cent since the year 2001, from 8,6 users to 13.9 users per 100 population, while in the rest of the EU the average grown was only 29 per cent. Although the percentage of Internet users is much less than the rest of the EU, some countries are close to the average level (Cyprus, Czeck Republic, Estonia and Malta).
Evolution of Internet Users between 2001 and 2003
PC penetration has increased visibly since 2001 and some countries, as Cyprus, Malta and Slovenia have penetration rates close to the average of the rest of the European Union.
The affordability of a PC is obviously a key factor to spread the Internet use. In some countries this equipment can be quite expensive. The cost of a PC as the percentage of monthly income can raise to 366 per cent (Lithuania), 213 per cent (Bulgaria), 204 per cent(Latvia) or 196 per cent (Romania). In other countries the percentage goes down to 47 per cent (Malta), 59 per cent (Cyprus), 83 per cent (Poland) or 86 per cent (Slovenia).
In the countries with higher costs, the decision to buy a PC would require significant justification in terms of 'added value' provided by the services on the internet. As the eEurope+ Final Report suggest, the user would need stronger reasons to be connected rather than the simple goods purchasing or the possibility to use eGovernment services. This fact suggest that there are a lot of opportunities to create new services.
Number of PCs per 100 population between 2001 and 2003
Opportunities for alternative technologies
Data from Estonia and Lithuania show that 46 per cent of households are without a fixed line service. This percentage includes 23 per cent of rural households, 15 per cent of urban households and 8 per cent of metropolitan households. Obviously there are good opportunities for the use of alternative technologies such as cable TV and wireless to gain access to the Internet. An example of the use of alternative technologies can be found in Czech Republic where one of the mobile operators has launched a service providing a wireless internet connection (based on GPRS technology) covering the whole country. A fixed monthly fee provides unlimited Internet access. On the other hand, the 85 per cent of Malta is covered by cable TV services, hence providing an alternative medium to connect to broadband,
Usage and frequency
The eEurope+ findings indicate that significant increases in the number of regular users in the Internet can be found in the Czech Republic, Estonia and Slovenia, possibly due to economic conditions and the lower relative costs of a PC and Internet access.
The average percentage of regular Internet users in a ll countries is 31 per cent. Only 7 per cent are irregular users, while the percentage of non-users climbs to 62 per cnet. The Czech republic, Estonia and Slovenia are the three countries with at least 50 per cent of users.
The most widespread usage of the Internet in the Acceding and Candidate Countries is for information search, with over 80 per cent of regular users making this claim. Obtaining games and music is an activity pursued by almost 40 per cent of users. Over 75 per cent of users claim that they send and receive e-mail and on average 32 per cent of users say they use internet to participate in chat rooms and discussion forums.
EquipmentApproximately half of the countries concerned have achieved, and several other countries are approaching, the target of 5 - 15 computers per 100 pupils.
Number of computers per 100 pupils in secondary education
There has been significant progress in the provision of computers for students in secondary level. Cyprus, Czech Republic and Hungary have increased by fifty percent from 2001 to 2003. At the secondary education level ICT is on the whole a compulsory subject. In most cases, national curricula combine the two approaches to ICT: as a separate subject and its use as a tool for other subjects.
Obstacles to usage
The cost of a computer and the cost of the Internet connection were cited as reasons for not accessing the Internet by 11 per cent and 8 per cent of respondents respectively. In the countries with a lower GPD per capita, sufficient Public Internet Access Points could be established as an interesting alternative to home computers.
Only 11 per cent of respondents claimed to have not exact knowledge on what the Internet actually is. On average, 23 per cent of the people claimed that they do not know how to use a computer.
Finally, the main technical reason given for not using the Internet is the lack of an access device at home (17 per cent on average). This could indicate a significant latent demand.
The data gathered by the eEurope+ Final Progress Report shows that considerable progress has been made in many areas related to the Information Society in the recent years. All Acceding and Candidate Countries have made significant efforts towards the implementation of the Knowledge-based society.Among several actions recommended for the future, the Report highlights the need to stimulate the development of interactive, multi-media rich and multilingual content, as a driver for broadband deployment. The implementation of e-government services, the integration of ICT training into every pupils' education or the deployment of lifelong ICT training are other measures recommended.
Read the full version of the report and see graphics on the<strong>EU's elearning information portal.