Internet means business as it loses anorak image

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Technology Correspondent

British users of the Internet can cast off their anorak image and reveal their business suits, according to a new national survey. More than a third of the users of the global information network earn more than pounds 25,000 a year, two-thirds are aged over 25, and a third are female, according to research carried out by NOP Research Group.

The standard image of the Internet user as a teenage boy secluded in a bedroom in his parents' home is contradicted by the survey, which found that in the UK 34 per cent are aged between 25 and 34, another 30 per cent aged between 35 and 55, and 6 per cent aged over 55. Separately, industry sources estimate there are at least 100,000 Britons with access to the Internet.

The survey is the first definitive picture of Internet use among a random sample of the UK population. It was carried out in households, in interviews with 5,660 people aged over 15, in the two months ending in May.

Of more interest to advertising agencies and commercial companies will be the statistic that 81 per cent of the network's users belong to the ABC1 social groupings, indicating higher levels of education and income.

Twenty per cent read the Financial Times - though another 20 per cent do not read a daily paper at all.

Another 16 per cent read the Daily Mail, and 11 per cent the Guardian.

"This is an indication that the transition we were expecting - from it being something for young nerds into a forum for decision-makers - is happening faster than people thought," says Wilf Emsley, European technology director for the advertising agency Young & Rubicam. Richard Longhurst, editor of .net magazine, which specialises in the Internet, comments: "We find it reassuring that there's such a big age range. At least it puts the lie to the belief that when you're over 40 you can't do anything with technology."

The survey also found that the explosive growth of the Internet, presently running at about 10 per cent per month, will continue. Among the population, 6 per cent bought a personal computer in the past year.

Almost 20 per cent of them already use it to "surf" the Internet, while a quarter of the rest say they intend to get an Internet connection - costing about pounds 20 per month - within the next year.

"The information network looks poised to go mainstream," says Robert Lawson, a research executive at NOP.