Is the talk of the new electronic age exaggerated? Only 30% of households in 11 major OECD countries had a home computer in 1997. That may sound disappointing to e-world afficionados who had hoped that by the end of the 1990s we would all be prepared for life in on the other side of 2000.
But there is worse: that 30% is just an average figure and the spread of the technology is quite uneven across the countries surveyed. The Scandinavians are generally ahead of the rest, with 50% household penetration in Norway and 45% in Denmark. The Dutch are keen too, since 43% of their households have a computer. At the bottom in ascending order are the French, the Japanese and the Italians, where computers are to be found in just 15%, 21.5% and 22% of households respectively. What conditions these trends is partly cost, partly habits and customs. In some countries, firms provide their staff with portable computers for the home. In others, where teleworking and small businesses flourish, writing off computer costs against tax as a personal business expense is common, even if the PC remains personal property.
Also, the French, for example, are used to the Minitel, which is a computer device distributed practically free of charge to telephone subscribers, enabling them to check timetables, phone numbers and even reserve and pay for airline tickets. But the household penetration of the Minitel is only about 20% – it is costly to run – and many of these will have computers too. Cost is probably the most important driver behind the spread of computers. In the United States, where 37% of homes have a computer, the price of personal computers fell by 90% in six years. European computer costs are coming down too and the sales figures have probably risen since 1997, though many new customers are likely to be waiting until the Y2K bug scare is out of the way before committing themselves to buying a PC for the home in 2000.
See new guidelines for Consumer Protection in the Context of Electronic Commerce
©OECD Observer No 219 December 1999