Canadian Francophones Underserved Online

6 February 2003

Ben Macklin takes a close look at Canadians online and reports that a digital divide exists between Canadians and French Canadians.

By Ben Macklin

Canada is one of the most wired countries in the world but it is not without its own digital divide. Not unlike the Hispanic and African American populations in the US, the French Canadians are under-represented online.

Qu�bec, the home to 7.5 million Canadians, is the second largest province in Canada behind Ontario in terms of population, yet it is falling behind its provincial neighbors when it comes to internet penetration. Statistics Canada reports that 48.7% of all households in Canada contained at least one regular internet user in 2001, while the penetration in Qu�bec was only 42.7%.

comScore Networks recently reported that there were 4.4 million French Canadian internet users in Canada in September 2002, compared to 15.9 million across the entire at-home market. It is worth noting that while Qu�bec contains the vast majority of French Canadians in the country, there are also large populations throughout New Brunswick and other provinces.

comScore Networks further found that French Canadian internet users, are in general, younger than the overall Canadian online population.

The relatively low internet penetration among Qu�b�cois and the French Canadian population, in conjunction with the indication that French Canadian internet users are younger than the overall online population, may have something to do with language preferences. Just as many people in the Hispanic minority in the US are forced to surf in their second language, French Canadians may be underserved in the virtual world. But while Spanish language sites can be expected to grow to accommodate demand in Latin America (and subsequently Hispanic Americans), the same is not necessarily true for French language sites

The Canadian government has effectively enforced bilingual content on its extensive and well-designed sites, and the Official Languages Act of 1969 (mandating equal treatment and dissemination of both French and English) also applies to the internet. Those younger Qu�b�cois and other French Canadians who were brought up in a bilingual environment undoubtedly find the internet a more attractive medium with greater possibilities to explore both English and French digital content. However, the limited scope of the Francophone market makes it less appealing for transnational players to specifically target.

Ben Macklin is a Senior Analyst with eMarketer and author of the upcoming North America Online report. You can reach him at [email protected] with comments, questions or suggestions.

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