Net love, Italian style
October 21, 1999
October 21, 1999
by Giada Zampano
ROME (IDG) -- But it won't happen this year. For the Internet to enter the "Italian way of life," as it has in the United States, we'll have to wait at least a couple of years.
Many things have changed since 1995, when the Web made its official debut in Italy, getting out of universities and research centers and entering homes, schools, and offices. But there is still a long way to go.
According to the Internet Observatory of the Milan-based Bocconi University, the number of Italians who had used the Internet at least once was about 5 million in June 1999, a significant increase compared with 2.6 million in 1998. Moreover, the population of regular Internet users is approaching 2 million, Bocconi's researchers say.
"The real explosion of the Internet in Italy could happen in a couple of years," says Andreina Mandelli, coordinator of the Internet Observatory.
Many cultural and economic barriers still divide Italians from the Internet world.
The first and most enduring one is the small diffusion of personal computers among Italian families. According to the Internet Observatory only 14 million Italians have a PC at home, less than half the percentage reported in the U.S.
The Italian government is trying to help. Massimo D'Alema, the Italian prime minister, recently expressed the government's intention to transform the PC into "a social need, a status symbol."
Another obstacle to the takeoff of the Internet is the limited success of e-commerce in Italy.
While the lack of adequate interactive services is likely the main reason, the absence of products to buy online also restrains Italian consumers.
A poll conducted by Bocconi researchers found that 24 percent of Italian Internet users had never bought anything online simply because "they'd never found anything interesting to buy."
Follow the wireless way
The market for e-commerce in Italy could be shaken when personal computers are not the only way to access the Web, experts say.
"One of the future possibilities is to connect to the Internet through the TV set," says Mauro Meanti, general director of Microsoft Italia. "But the real innovation is the mobile phone."
Many Italian telecommunication companies are ready to launch new multifunctional phones that are able to download Web pages, collect data, and send faxes and e-mail. Considering that Italy is one of the leading countries in Europe for the diffusion of mobile phones, this could be the start of a new era of success for e-commerce.
And, perhaps, the beginning of a new romance between Italians and the Internet.
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