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Cost becomes an issue for UK Internet users

A small percentage of UK consumers do not have access to the Internet at home and cost increasingly part of the reason why, according to new data from Ofcom.

Mary Lennighan

November 29, 2023

3 Min Read
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Earlier this week the UK telecoms regulator published its annual Online Nation report, which looks at Internet usage levels and patterns across the four nations. Not a lot has changed since the previous edition of the report: UK adults still spend a huge amount of time online and many of us are using the same apps and services. But there are some interesting snippets in the report, including the affordability issue.

7% of UK individuals aged 16 or over do not have an Internet connection at home, be that fixed or mobile, Ofcom's report, based on data collected in May, shows. That figure is comparable to last year's report, but it's pretty clear that affordability has become more of an issue since then.

The biggest reason given for not having the Internet at home was a lack of interest or need; indeed, 65% of those surveyed said as much. But Ofcom notes that a sizeable 26% cited reasons linked to cost. The high cost of setting up broadband was the top reason given with relation to cost at 18%, while 13% cited the monthly price of a fixed broadband service.

The regulator did not provide directly comparative figures on the affordability front, but a quick look at the previous Online Nation report shows that 19% cited cost as the reason for not using the Internet at home. If the data is comparable, that's quite a jump.

Food for thought there, perhaps, for the UK's big broadband providers, many of which made headlines earlier this year after hiking prices by double-figure percentage points due to inflation link formulae. As well as probing that aspect of the market, Ofcom has repeatedly urged operators to make more of an effort to either launch or better publicise broadband plans aimed at low-income users. These numbers surely reinforce its position.

Much of the report naturally focuses on those that do use the Internet. Adults spent an average of three hours and 41 minutes per day online in May 2023, which represents an increase of eight minutes on May 2022. Young adults spend the most time online and the over 65s the least. Nothing particularly remarkable there.

However, those eight minutes add up. The average online adult spends around 56 days per year online, which is two more days than in 2022. That's a fairly sobering thought.

But surely we're all ploughing that extra time into valuable online pursuits?

Hmmm...that's a judgement call, really. Alphabet and Meta-owned properties are the most visited online across the UK, with 99% visiting the former and 96% the latter in May this year. Alphabet's YouTube was the most visited site, attracting 91% of UK adults in May, overtaking Meta-owned Facebook which clocked up 90.7% after its number of visitors fell by 1.4 million year-on-year. Social media and communication apps also owned by Meta – that's WhatsApp, Facebook, Facebook Messenger and Instagram – were the most visited smartphone apps by adults though.

In addition, Meta's new Threads service, which has been around since the start of the year ahead of an official launch in July, has also garnered significant attention. 23% of Internet users aged 16-plus tried the service at least once in its first two months, Ofcom reports. It remains well behind Twitter – now known as X, of course – which drew usage from 52% of adults in the past year.

Ofcom has masses more data on the UK's online usage, including what kids are doing, often bypassing age restrictions, and adults' daytime use of online porn services – told you it was a judgement call – which can be found in the full report, downloadable here.

Reading the whole thing would take more than that extra 8 minutes per day of online activity, which could then have a knock-on effect on next year's numbers. It's surely only a matter of time before we're calculating how much time we spend offline instead, for those that can afford it, of course.

About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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