Digital economy and digital society statistics at regional level
Data extracted in March 2020.
Planned article update: September 2021.
In 2019, the vast majority of regions in the Netherlands and the Nordic Member States reported that at least 9 out of 10 adults were using the internet on a daily basis.
In Utrecht (the Netherlands) and Övre Norrland (Sweden), 19 out of every 20 adults made use of the internet for banking in 2019; by contrast, this share was less than 1 out of every 10 adults in a majority of Bulgarian and Romanian regions.
Information and communication technology (ICT) affect people’s everyday lives in many ways, both at work and in the home — for example, when communicating, keeping abreast of the news, being entertained, interacting with public authorities, paying bills or shopping online. In order to be able to benefit from technological innovations, businesses and individuals depend, at least to some extent, on having fast and reliable internet access (whether fixed or mobile).
Indeed, access to ICTs is considered, by many, as fundamental for improving productivity levels and the competitiveness of regions. ICTs are credited with delivering greater flexibility in work environments (for example, permitting people to work from home or other remote locations), while offering a broad range of options for staying in contact with colleagues, family and friends. As the internet and digital technologies continue to transform the world, ICT innovations provide a stream of new business opportunities. It is hoped that this new digital world, the internet of things — which is working its way into many aspects of society — will provide tools that may be applied to a range of European Union (EU) policy objectives in fields as diverse as health, security, climate, transport, energy, or the modernisation of the public sector.
Although the internet is an almost constant part of the lives of many Europeans, some people are excluded to a greater or lesser extent, resulting in the so-called digital divide. People living in remote regions may be excluded as market forces and a lack of public infrastructure investment lead to access and/or performance issues when trying to use the internet and result in socially undesirable outcomes. Others, particularly older generations, may not have the necessary e-skills to take full advantage of various services that are provided via the internet. With a growing share of day-to-day tasks being carried out online, the ability to use modern technologies becomes increasingly important to ensure everyone can participate in the digital society. This digital divide is likely to be further challenged in the next few years, as people living in Europe’s main cities are given the opportunity to move on to 5G internet services (the fifth generation of cellular network technology).
More than three quarters of all adults in the EU made use of the internet on a daily basis
An internet user is defined as a person (aged 16-74 years) making use of the internet in whatever way: whether at home, at work, or anywhere else; whether for private or professional purposes; regardless of the device (desktop computer, laptop, netbook or tablet, smartphone, games console or e-book reader) or type of connection being used. In 2019, some 77 % of the EU-27’s adult population reported having used the internet on a daily basis during the three months preceding the survey; this figure was 3 percentage points higher than in 2018 and 31 points higher than a decade before (46 % in 2009).
There were widespread disparities between EU regions in terms of daily use of the internet. These differences were often along broad geographical lines with northern and western regions generally recording higher levels than southern or eastern regions. Within individual EU Member States, the proportion of adults making daily use of the internet was usually relatively high in capital and other urban regions whereas it was generally lower in more rural or remote regions; this pattern was particularly apparent in eastern Europe.
Across the EU-27, the share of adults making daily use of the internet ranged from a low of 49 % up to a high of 96 % across the NUTS level 2 regions for which data are available (see Map 1); note that the statistics presented for Germany, Greece and Poland relate to NUTS level 1 regions. The lowest share was recorded in Nord-Est (Romania), which was the only region in the EU to report fewer than half of all adults using the internet on a daily basis. The highest share was recorded in Utrecht (the Netherlands).
The digital divide between cities and rural areas was closing
Figure 1 shows the development of daily internet use over the last decade with an analysis by degree of urbanisation. It confirms that in 2019 adults (aged 16-74 years) living in cities across the EU-27 were more likely to use the internet on a daily basis (81 %) than adults living in towns and suburbs (77 %) or rural areas (70 %). This pattern — a higher share of daily internet users living in cities — was repeated in the vast majority of the EU Member States. In 2019, the only exceptions were the neighbouring Member States of Belgium and the Netherlands. In the former, adults living in towns and suburbs were more likely to use the internet on a daily basis (than those living in cities), while in the latter, identical shares of adults living in cities and in rural areas made use of the internet on a daily basis.
The gap in daily internet use between adults living in cities and rural areas was relatively small in most of the EU Member States that were characterised by relatively high overall use of the internet (this may reflect widespread internet access). By contrast, the difference was often much wider in the Member States characterised by lower overall levels of internet use. For example, adults living in the rural areas of Greece and Bulgaria were 25 and 23 percentage points less likely to make daily use of the internet in 2019 when compared with their counterparts living in cities.
Although a lower share of adults living in rural areas made daily use of the internet, this digital divide was generally narrower in 2019 than it had been in 2009. While the gap in daily internet use between city-dwellers and people living in rural areas of the EU-27 was 16 percentage points in 2009, it had narrowed to 11 points by 2019. In a majority of EU Member States, the proportion of adults living in rural areas and making use of the internet on a daily basis rose at a faster pace than the increase observed among city-dwellers (where internet use was often near saturation).
In a majority of Italian regions, less than half of all adults accessed the internet away from home or work
Map 2 shows the share of the adult population (aged 16-74 years) who reported having accessed the internet away from home or work during the three months preceding the survey. In the EU-27 this share stood at 73 % in 2019 and ranged from a low of 42 % in Calabria (Italy) up to a peak of 95 % in three Swedish regions, including the capital region of Stockholm. This pattern — a relatively high share of adults accessing the internet away from home or work in capital regions — was repeated in most of the EU Member States. The relatively high use that is made of the internet away from home or work in capital regions may reflect, among other factors, high-quality infrastructure providing faster connectivity, a relatively young population age structure, or greater numbers of commuters.
The EU regions where less than three fifths of all adults accessed the internet away from home or work were concentrated in Italy and Poland (as shown by the lightest shade in Map 2). In 2019, all 21 NUTS level 2 regions in Italy recorded shares below 60 %, with less than half of all Italians accessing the internet away from home or work in each of the southern and island regions. In Poland, six out of seven (NUTS level 1) regions reported less than 60 % of adults accessing the internet away from home or work. The only exception was the capital region of Makroregion Województwo Mazowieckie, where this share reached almost two thirds (64 %).
With the prolific use in modern society of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, the frequency with which people use the internet has grown exponentially. Although it was initially used as a means to exchange information (often in a working environment), the range of activities conducted over the internet has rapidly evolved. For example, it is only slightly more than a decade since commercially successful app stores or streaming services were launched.
Participation in social networks
One of the most popular activities on the internet is participation in social networks, for example, using Facebook, Instagram, TikTok or Twitter. The propensity to make use of such services is closely linked to age, with a much higher proportion of younger people using social networks on a regular basis. Younger people are also more prone to adopt new apps/services as together with their peers they seek alternative ways of exchanging text, images, sound, video and other information. Note the statistics presented below only cover adults aged 16-74 years.
More than four out of every five adults in Hovedstaden, Midtjylland and Prov. Liège participated in social networks
In 2019, just over half (54 %) of the EU-27 adult population participated in social networks during the three months prior to the latest survey (see Figure 2). The use of social networks varied considerably between age groups. Close to 9 out of 10 people aged 16-24 years participated in social networks, compared with less than one in five people aged 65-74 years.
At least half of the adult population participated in social networks in 138 out of the 197 NUTS level 2 regions for which data are available in 2019; note again that the statistics presented for Germany, Greece and Poland relate to NUTS level 1 regions. The share of adults participating in social networks peaked at 82 % in three regions — Hovedstaden (the Danish capital region), Midtjylland (also in Denmark) and Prov. Liège (Belgium). In 2019, there were 15 regions across the EU where the share of the adult population participating in social networks was at least three quarters. Most of these regions were located in Belgium (six regions), Denmark (all five regions) or Sweden (two regions). There were also several regions in eastern and southern parts of the EU where the proportion of adults participating in social networks was relatively high, for example, Közép-Dunántúl and Budapest (in Hungary; 74 % and 73 %) or the island regions of Cyprus (72 %) and Malta (71 %).
In approximately 3 out of every 10 NUTS level 2 regions of the EU, less than half of all adults participated in social networks. The lowest shares were concentrated in regions of France and Italy. In the former, there were 10 rural and remote regions where fewer than 4 out of 10 adults participated in social networks, including Corse (34 %), Martinique (33 %) and Guadeloupe (30 %) which had the lowest shares in the EU. There were also six Italian regions where the shares were below 40 %, four of which were situated in the south.
In 2019, more than half (55 %) of the EU-27’s adult population (aged 16-74 years) used the internet for banking during the three months prior to the latest survey. Online banking was particularly common among people aged 25-34 years (72 %), while less than one third of population aged 65-74 years made use of the internet for banking.
The share of adults using the internet for banking stood at 95 % in Utrecht and Övre Norrland
The use of online banking reflects, to some degree, the availability of broadband internet connections. That said, an individual’s choice as to whether or not they use the internet for banking often comes down to a matter of trust (which may reflect national characteristics to some extent). All of the NUTS level 2 regions in Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden (except Mellersta Norrland) and Estonia reported that more than four fifths of adults used the internet for banking in 2019 (see Figure 3). The highest shares were recorded in Utrecht (the Netherlands) and Övre Norrland (Sweden), at 95 %. In each of the remaining regions of the EU, less than four fifths of the adult population used online banking; note again that the statistics for Germany, Greece and Poland relate to NUTS level 1 regions.
Approximately one third of all regions across the EU reported that less than 50 % of their adult population made use of the internet for online banking in 2019. The propensity to use the internet for banking was generally lower in rural and remote regions (than it was in urban regions), with some of the lowest shares recorded in regions characterised by a lack of internet connectivity and/or an older population age structure. For example, just one in five adults from Kentriki Ellada (Greece) and Basilicata (Italy) made use of the internet for banking. However, the lowest take-up of online banking was recorded in Bulgaria and Romania. This was particularly notable in Yuzhen tsentralen (Bulgaria) and Sud-Est (Romania), where just 4 % of all adults used the internet for banking. This share did not rise above 15 % in any of the other regions in these two Member States.
Interacting with public authorities
E-government is defined as the use of ICTs to improve the delivery of services by public authorities. In most of the EU Member States it is possible for private individuals to carry out a broad range of operations by interacting online with their public authorities, for example: making a tax return, requesting a birth certificate, downloading forms, or looking for information about the local transport network; note that contacts with public authorities by manually typed e-mails are excluded from the statistics presented below.
In the Netherlands and the Nordic Member States, a high proportion of the adult population used the internet to interact with public authorities
Just over half (53 %) of the EU-27’s adult population (aged 16-74 years) used the internet for interacting with public authorities during the 12 months prior to the 2019 survey. There were considerable differences between EU Member States in relation to the share of people interacting with public authorities over the internet. However, intra-regional differences within individual Member States were, in most cases, relatively narrow (see Figure 4).
Approximately one fifth of the NUTS level 2 regions in the EU reported that at least 75 % of their adult population were using the internet to interact with public authorities in 2019; note again that the statistics for Germany, Greece and Poland relate to NUTS level 1 regions. These regions were exclusively located in northern and western parts of the EU. Some of the highest shares were concentrated in the Netherlands and the Nordic Member States. Most French regions — apart from Corse and the régions ultrapériphériques — also had relatively high shares.
Close to 19 out of 20 (94 %) adults in Hovedstaden (the capital region of Denmark) and Övre Norrland (Sweden) used the internet to interact with public authorities during the 12 months prior to the 2019 survey. At the other end of the range, the share of adults interacting with public authorities over the internet was less than 10 % in three Romanian regions, with the lowest share recorded in Sud – Muntenia (8 %).
Ordering goods and services over the internet
E-commerce makes it easier for consumers to compare different retail offers. It has the potential to reconfigure the geography of consumption, for example, extending consumer choice and reducing prices in remote regions of the EU, while removing the burden of travelling considerable distances to shop for specific items. As for internet banking, an individual’s choice as to whether or not to use e-commerce may in part be related to trust.
For statistical purposes, e-commerce is defined as buying goods or services through electronic transactions, including the placing of orders for goods or services over the internet (payment and the ultimate delivery of the goods or service may be conducted either online or offline); orders via manually typed e-mails are excluded.
In every region of Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden, at least three quarters of all adults made use of e-commerce
In 2019, 60 % of the EU-27 population aged 16-74 years reported that they had bought/ordered goods or services over the internet in the 12 months prior to the survey. The propensity to make use of e-commerce — as with many other internet activities — is closely linked to age. For example, people aged 25-34 years were almost three times as likely to have made use of the internet to buy/order goods or services (79 %) when compared with people aged 65-74 years (28 %).
There was a relatively balanced distribution around the EU-27 average when analysing the propensity to make use of e-commerce at a regional level: 99 NUTS level 2 regions recorded shares that were above the EU-27 average, while 97 regions had shares that were below; note again that statistics for Germany, Greece and Poland relate to NUTS level 1 regions.
Map 3 shows that some of the highest shares of people buying/ordering goods or services over the internet were concentrated in Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden. Indeed, each of the 25 regions that cover these three EU Member States reported at least three quarters of all adults making use of e-commerce in 2019. More specifically, the highest proportions of adults buying/ordering goods or services over the internet were in Utrecht (89 %), Övre Norrland (87 %) and Hovedstaden (86 %); note all three of these regions figured in connection with high rates for one or more of the other internet activities analysed earlier in this article.
The lowest shares of adults making use of e-commerce were concentrated in Bulgaria, Romania and southern Italy. Indeed, every region of Bulgaria and all but one of the regions in Romania (the exception being the capital region) reported less than 30 % of their adult population buying/ordering goods or services over the internet in 2019 (as shown by the lightest shade in Map 3). Among these, there were four regions where fewer than 20 % of all adults made use of e-commerce: Severen tsentralen (which had the lowest share in the EU, at 14 %) and Yuzhen tsentralen in Bulgaria; Nord-Est and Sud-Est in Romania.
Source data for figures and maps
European ICT surveys aim to provide timely statistics on individuals and households relating to their use of ICTs. Many of these statistics are used in the benchmarking framework associated with the EU’s digital scoreboard.
Statistics on the use of ICT are based on Regulation (EC) No 808/2004 concerning Community statistics on the information society. This regulation concerns statistics on the use of ICT in enterprises, as well as in households and by individuals — only statistics for households and individuals are presented in this article. Since 2005, European Commission implementing regulations have been passed annually, specifying particular areas of interest for data collection, thereby allowing policymakers to have access to data that aim to measure the impact of new technologies and services in this rapidly changing domain.
The statistical units for regional data on ICTs are the household or the individual. The population of households consists of all households having at least one member in the age group 16-74 years. The population of individuals consists of all individuals aged 16-74 years. Questions on access to ICTs are addressed to households, while questions on the use of ICTs are answered by individuals within the household.
In general, the data presented were collected in the second quarter of the survey year (2019). Data for the EU are compiled when data are available for EU Member States representing at least 60 % of the EU’s population and at least 55 % of the number of EU Member States. If additional national data become available, these are included in revised aggregates; as such, these statistics may be revised to reflect the supply of additional information.
Regional statistics on ICT for the EU Member States are generally available for NUTS level 2 regions. However, the latest data for Germany, Greece and Poland are only provided for NUTS level 1 regions; a similar situation exists for the United Kingdom and for Turkey.
In May 2015, the European Commission adopted a strategy to shape the digital single market (COM(2015) 192 final) as one of its top 10 political priorities for the period 2015-2019. The strategy covered three broad pillars:
- promoting better online access to goods and services across Europe;
- designing an optimal environment for digital networks and services to develop;
- ensuring that the European economy and industry take full advantage of the digital economy as a potential driver for growth.
The Digital Agenda for Europe set two targets for broadband access speeds, namely that:
- everybody in the EU should have a 30 megabits per second (Mbps) connection by 2020; while
- half of all households should be in a position to subscribe to a 100 Mbps service by the same date.
The Agenda was followed in September 2016 by a strategy on connectivity for a European gigabit society to stimulate the availability and take-up of very high capacity networks, which included three new objectives to be achieved by 2025:
- access to a 1 gigabits per second (Gbps) service for all schools, transport hubs and main providers of public services and digitally intensive enterprises;
- access to download speeds of at least 100 Mbps to be upgraded to 1 Gbps for all households; and,
- uninterrupted 5G wireless broadband coverage for all urban areas and major roads and railways.
At the end of 2015, the European Commission published a framework called monitoring the digital economy and society 2016-2021. This describes a range of policy developments and outlines data requirements for these, with a digital scoreboard introduced to measure progress.
The European Commission conducted a mid-term review of the digital single market strategy (COM(2017) 228 final) in 2017 which confirmed that two thirds of Europeans thought the introduction of the most recent digital technologies had a positive impact on society, the economy and their own lives. The review also identified three emerging challenges:
- to ensure that online platforms continue to bring benefit to the economy and society — tacking illegal content online and encouraging enhanced responsibility among online platform providers;
- to develop the European data economy to its full potential — for example, by making proposals for the free flow of non-personal data within the EU; and,
- to protect Europe’s assets by tackling cybersecurity challenges — including a blueprint for rapid emergency responses in case of a large scale cyber incident.
In 2019, the new European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, described how she wanted the EU to grasp the opportunities presented by the digital age. Indeed, A Europe fit for the digital age is one of six Commission priorities for the period 2019-2024. Such a digital transformation is based on the premise that digital technologies and solutions should: open up new opportunities for businesses; boost the development of trustworthy technology; foster an open and democratic society; enable a vibrant and sustainable economy; help fight climate change. With this in mind, during February 2020 the European Commission adopted an overarching presentation of the Commission’s ideas and actions for Shaping Europe’s Digital Future, as well as specific proposals in relation to:
- A European strategy for data (COM(2020) 66 final) which seeks to promote the EU as a leading role model for a society empowered by data to make better decisions — in business and the public sector; and
- a White Paper on Artificial Intelligence — A European approach to excellence and trust (COM(2020) 65 final) which supports a regulatory and investment oriented approach with the twin objectives of promoting the uptake of artificial intelligence and addressing the risks associated with certain uses of this new technology.
At a regional level, over EUR 20 billion of funding has been made available through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and cohesion fund for ICT investments during the period 2014-2020. The ERDF prioritises: extending broadband deployment and the roll-out of high-speed networks; developing ICT products and services and e-commerce; strengthening ICT applications for e-government, e-learning, e-inclusion, e-culture and e-health.
- ICT usage in households and by individuals (t_isoc_i)
- Regional ICT statistics (t_isoc_reg)
- Regional digital economy and society (t_reg_isoc)
- ICT usage in households and by individuals (isoc_i)
- Internet use (isoc_iiu)
- Individuals - frequency of internet use (isoc_ci_ifp_fu)
- Individuals - internet activities (isoc_ci_ac_i)
- E-commerce (isoc_iec)
- Internet purchases by individuals (isoc_ec_ibuy)
- E-government (isoc_ci_egi)
- E-government activities of individuals via websites (isoc_ciegi_ac)
- Regional ICT statistics (isoc_reg)
- Individuals who used the internet, frequency of use and activities (isoc_r_iuse_i)
- Individuals who used the internet for interaction with public authorities (isoc_r_gov_i)
- Individuals who ordered goods or services over the internet for private use (isoc_r_blt12_i)
- Individuals who accessed the internet away from home or work (isoc_r_iumd_i)
- Internet use (isoc_iiu)
- Regional digital economy and society (reg_isoc)
Manuals and further methodological information
- Methodological manuals for statistics on the information society
- Methodological manual on territorial typologies — Eurostat — 2018 edition
- ICT usage in households and by individuals (ESMS metadata file — isoc_i_esms)