A report published yesterday by Eurostat on Internet use and access in the 27 European member states, Norway, Iceland and Croatia, shows that Internet access in Italian households has remained stable at 42% in the last three years (it was 40% in 2006 and 43% in 2007) compared to the European average of 60%. This figure places Italy amongst the four countries with the lowest rates of Internet access in Europe, only followed by Greece (31%), Romania (30%) and Bulgaria (25%), which have all experienced a big growth since their very low levels of 2006. The percentage of Italian households with a broadband connection, on the other hand, has grown from 16% in 2006, to 25% in 2007 and 31% in 2008 – which, however, is low compared to the EU average of 48%, and again is only higher than the percentage in Bulgaria (21%), Greece (22%) and Romania (13%).
What are the reasons which keep Italians from going online? As broadband connections have been growing in the household, we can hypothesize that Italians make the choice of not going online, because they do not see the point and the benefits of doing so. Prof. William Dutton, of the Oxford Internet Institute, has been studying Internet adoption and use in Britain through by-yearly surveys and he has found that the major reason for people remaining offline is choice: they do not see the value of it. He talks about the Internet as an ‘experience’ technology, which people begin to appreciate by actually using it. So how do we make people appreciate the benefits of going online? Clearly, the media and politicians play a huge role in sensitizing public opinion towards the value of the Internet. In Italy, unfortunately, the negative sides are those which are more often emphasized by mainstream media: online theft, sexual predators, the shutting down of Facebook in workplaces. And so far, economic and revenue considerations have prevailed over discourses about the role of the Internet as a fundamental component of 21st century notions of citizenship. Just today Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has advocated for the need of regulating the Internet, as the economics of the World Wide Web (with copyright issues and advertising revenue at the forefront) are becoming more and more apparent (as exemplified by Mediaset’s recent decision to sue Google for its own TV content which is being posted by users on YouTube) .
So in the absence of a public debate on mainstream media and in the political arena, valuable bottom-up initiatives have been shaping up to sensitize people towards the value of the Internet: Internet enterpreneur Marco Montemagno has recently launched Codice Internet, a brilliant initiative which aims to show people what the Internet is all about via meetings and talks which are going to take place both online and offline, all over Italy (check out their Facebook group and their interactive site for more information). The shape that the Internet will take is very much in the end of the users: stay tuned.