Internet Heads for 1 Billion Users

The Internet’s reach is wider than imagined and its growth is faster than expected, according to a survey by Angus Reid Group. The study, “The Face of the Web,” found that more than 300 million people people are already on the Internet, and as many as 150 million more are planning to do so during the year 2000.

The combined 450 million current and potential user figure is based on a study sample of 28,374 Internet users and consumers conducted by telephone or in-person in 34 countries. The study also found that Internet users remain highly concentrated in a few countries, show no sign of slowing in several others, and that hundreds of millions of citizens have no immediate intention of going online.

Forty percent of the survey’s respondents (representing roughly the population of the US) were aware of the Internet but had no intention of using it in the next 12 months, with the majority of these respondents citing a lack of interest, knowledge, and relevance to their lives.

“We’re inching closer to that magic number of 1 billion Internet users by 2005,” said Dr. Angus Reid, Chairman and CEO of the Angus Reid Group. “But the Web has much more ground to make up before it can claim to be a truly worldwide medium on the scale of television. Even in many developed countries, one-third of adults have not tried the Internet. There is substantial room for growth in every country we studied. The key to reaching mass appeal will be to move fence sitters — people who know about the Internet but for some reason simply haven’t logged on yet — into true believers and users.”

The US ranks first on most of the categories measured by the Angus Reid study: greatest estimated home PC ownership (107 million), most total Internet users (108 million), highest Internet trial (69 percent), highest Internet knowledge (60 percent claim to know a “fair amount” about the Internet) and highest Internet usage (59 percent). The study found the US will also generate the greatest number of future users with an estimated 33 million new users expected to log on this year. Yet despite the sheer volume of Internet users, the US now represents only 39 percent of Internet usage worldwide.

A study by the Strategis Group on Internet user trends in the US found that at year-end 1999, the number of Internet users in the US had topped 106 million, with 53 percent of adults using the Internet and 47 percent of US households having Internet access. Women made up nearly 60 percent of new Internet users in the US in 1999, according to Strategis, and the number of female Internet users has tripled in the last 2.5 years. The number of Internet users that access the Net from home is also growing. Strategis found a 43 percent increase in home users in 1999, and home usage is growing nearly 60 percent faster than overall usage. Internet use has become a fact of life in the US, with 61 percent of home users going online at least once a day and half using the Internet more than once a day.

Along with increased Internet usage, online shopping is also growing in the US. The Strategis Group found that average monthly spending on online purchases was $68.50 in 1999. Nearly 40 percent of Internet users spent an average of more than $50 per month. Like the Angus Reid study, Strategis found the US will keep adding new Internet users at a considerable rate. Thirty-five percent of non-users are likely to be online in the foreseeable future, Strategis found, meaning 35 to 40 million additional Internet users in the US. More than half (52 percent) of non-users are in households with an annual income less than $40,000. Only 29 percent of current Internet users are in this bracket.

According to the Angus Reid study, Canada ranks second behind the US in many categories, including Internet trial (64 percent), usage (56 percent), knowledge (54 percent), and home PC penetration. In Europe, Germany ranks third in terms of total Internet users with 18 million, and the UK fourth with 14 million. But the Angus Reid study also found that both Eastern and Southern Europe are showing stalled rates of PC penetration and Internet usage. These countries also have the highest proportions of adults with no interest in going online.

In Asia, Hong Kong (35 percent), Japan (33 percent), and Singapore (33 percent) made it into Angus Reid’s top ten in terms of the percent of the population online. Japan, thanks to its wireless access options and wireless broadband initiatives, is sure to add millions of new users to its 32 million existing users, the study found.

The Angus Reid study also confirmed a strong link between initial trial and on-going Internet usage.

“This is no passing fad,” Reid said. “Once you’re hooked, adoption rates go through the roof. But now that the Web has achieved critical mass, the key to future growth involves breaking down barriers to access.”

Cost is the biggest barrier to Internet penetration, but it is the cost of a PC, not the access itself, that is keeping people offline. Home Internet access trails almost every other household consumer electronic device in terms of ownership and usage. Almost all (97 percent) of the respondents have a TV, 48 percent have a cellular phone, 42 percent have home computers, and 20 percent have home Internet access.

According to Reid, making home Internet access cheaper and easier through TV-top boxes and video game consoles will be the answer, along with wireless Net access.

“There is a tendency to assume the ‘North American’ model of Web access from a home PC is the only the Web will continue to develop,” Reid said. “The ‘Euro-Asian’ model of wireless Web access on cellphones and palmtops, and public access to the Web in cafes and kiosks must play a greater role.”

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