Residents of the Netherlands, armed with a tax break for computer purchases and some of Europe's lowest broadband fees, lead the world in the use of personal computers and the Internet, according to a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts released Tuesday.
In a survey of habits in 17 nations, 82 percent of Dutch residents said they used a computer at least occasionally at home or at work, and 72 percent used the Internet. In Canada, the numbers were 79 percent and 71 percent, respectively, while they were 76 percent and 70 percent in the United States.
Experts attributed the Netherlands' heavy computer and Internet use to a Dutch tax break that effectively reduced the cost of buying personal computers by 40 percent. Under the program, which ran from 1997 through August 2004, Dutch workers could buy home PCs with pretax euros if the devices were also used for business. Employers deducted the purchase from pretax wages. The benefit could be claimed to buy a new computer every three years.
Arno Bakker, a computer programmer who lives near Amsterdam, was among the Dutch who took advantage of the PC program through his employer, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Free University of Amsterdam. He also pays 17, or $20, a month for unlimited broadband, well below the European average price of 37.
"The Netherlands has one of the most competitive broadband markets in Europe," said Paul Jackson, a principal analyst with Forrester Research in Amsterdam. "Early on, there was competition in broadband from cable TV operators, which sent prices plummeting and helped boost the use of broadband."
By contrast, in Germany unlimited broadband from Deutsche Telekom, which has a de facto monopoly on high- speed Internet connections, costs about 28 per month, or 65 percent more than in the Netherlands. Germany was fifth among countries in the Pew survey in computer and in Internet use, with 60 percent and 64 percent, respectively.
The survey was based on interviews conducted in April and May with 17,766 people in 17 countries. The survey found that Internet use had increased most rapidly in Britain, rising from 47 percent in 2002 to 71 percent in 2005.
Alex Burmaster, a European Internet analyst in London with Nielsen/NetRatings, a research company, said the number of British broadband providers rose dramatically in the past four years and the competition pushed consumer prices lower.
Burmaster said he pays about £30, or $52, a month for unlimited high-speed broadband under a plan marketed jointly by BT Group and Yahoo. "But it's very possible in the U.K. these days to get some level of broadband service for just £8 a month," he said.
Sweden, one of Europe's most computer literate countries, was not included because the original sample was chosen for a broader study.
According to Forrester, 77 percent of Swedes use the Internet at least once a month and 79 percent have computers. The Swedish government has let employees there buy home computers since 1998 with pre-tax earnings.
Source:International Herald Tribune.