Edging across the digital divide

More than half of the U.S. population has Internet access, and although at-home Web surfers tend to be affluent and better educated, the gap is closing

More than half of the U.S. population has Internet access at home, according

to market research released Aug. 17.

Internet audience measurement reported for July by Nielsen/NetRatings,

a service of Nielsen Media Research Inc. and NetRatings Inc., found that

about 144 million people — 52 percent of the U.S. population — has home

access to the Internet. That's an increase of 35 percent over the 104.6

million people the company reported were online at home in July 1999.

The profile of Web surfers also is changing as the numbers online grow.

The home Web surfer is still more likely to be more affluent and better

educated than the average, but inexpensive, quality computers and a highly

competitive market for Internet service are helping to change the profile.

"If we were building a panel [of Internet users] years ago, it would

have looked like a bunch of white techie males," said Peggy O'Neill, an

Internet analyst at Nielsen/NetRatings. "The fact that you can get a decent

computer for an affordable price, that's helped. Very few computers are

sold today without Internet access. It's more women than men now, and the

controlling factor seems to be having kids in the house."

Quarterly research from market analysts at PC Data Inc. also shows about

52 percent of homes have Internet access.

"We're crossing the digital divide." said John Megahed, director of

research and analysis at PC Data Online. "Free [Internet service providers]

are helping to bridge the gap. As long as you have a computer and a modem,

you can get online." He said he expects the number of people online at home

to increase by 2 percent per month.

Megahed and O'Neill noted that there is a difference between the number

of people with home Internet access and the number of active Web surfers.

About 88 million people surf at least once per month at home, O'Neill said,

while Megahed put the figure at about 100 million. But both are well below

the actual number of residents with home Internet access.

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