Rising broadband penetration and an interest in using the Internet for personal connections are driving growth in Internet usage across Western Europe, according to a survey by the European Interactive Advertising Association (EIAA) and Synovate.

In France, Norway, the UK, Sweden and Denmark, broadband penetration is at 84% or higher.

High levels of broadband penetration mean more time spent online: The average Western European Internet user now spends 11 hours and 20 minutes a week online, vs. 10 hours and 15 minutes per week in 2005, an increase of 10.6%, according to the EIAA.

Social networking is among the online activities seeing a boost.. Just under one-quarter (23%) of online Western Europeans visit such sites at least once a month. Among the 16-24 age group, 32% visit at least once a month.

Europe will be a key market for social network advertising in 2007, eMarketer believes, as networks from companies such as Bebo, MySpace and Skyblog shift into high gear. eMarketer projects that worldwide ad spending (excluding the US) on social networks will rise to $260 million in 2007, up from an estimated $95 million in 2006.

Individual market differences in Internet use are evident in the survey. Spanish and German markets lead in the use of online forums, with 36% and 31%, respectively, interacting with those sites at least once a month, the EIAA found. Sweden is leading the Western European Internet radio trend, with 43% of online users tuning in at least once a month, followed closely by the Spanish and French markets. One-quarter of Internet users in France are also using blogs at least once a month, the highest percentage in Western Europe.

The survey is based on 7,036 random telephone interviews with over 1,000 respondents each in the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Sweden and Norway, and 500 respondents each in Belgium and the Netherlands. Interviews were conducted in September 2006.

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