Survey: US 'Net usage diversifying as it grows

The number of people surfing the Internet in the US rose dramatically in the first half of the year, while an increase in average connection times suggests users may be changing their online habits, according to results of a new survey. E-mail is still the main reason by far for going online, but a notable increase in average connection times is testimony that other activities - like reading online publications, downloading software, shopping and playing games - are becoming more popular.

The number of people surfing the Internet in the US rose dramatically in the first half of the year, while an increase in average connection times suggests users may be changing their online habits, according to results of a new survey.

The number of PCs connected to the Internet soared 35 percent between January and August, from 45 million to just over 60 million, according to Ziff-Davis' Technology User Profile 1998 Mid-Year Study. That means more than half of all PCs in use in the US are now Web-enabled, Ziff-Davis said.

PCs in the workplace led the charge with a 52% increase in the number of Net-connected systems, from 16 million to 24 million. But home PCs still represent the lion's share of the market, with 28 million consumer PCs hooked up to the Web, Ziff-Davis said.

Almost a third of the U.S.'s 103 million households are connected to the Internet, the survey found. That represents 61% of all homes that own a PC -- a figure that has increased by 30% since January.

E-mail is still the main reason by far for going online, according to the roughly 7,600 users surveyed. But a notable increase in average connection times is testimony that other activities -- like reading online publications, downloading software, shopping and playing games -- are becoming more popular, said Miran Chun, industry analyst at ZD Market Intelligence, the Ziff-Davis group that conducted the study.

The number of users who stay online for more than 10 hours each week jumped from 19% to 2% between January and August. If interest in activities other than e-mail continues to grow, that figure could grow to 30% by the end of the year, Chun said.

The survey also found that almost half of all Internet users have been surfing for less than a year.

"This is not surprising given that, in the first half of this year alone, seven million households joined the wired world," Chun said.

Not surprisingly, Internet penetration increases with household income and education levels: almost a third of homes online reported an annual income of $US75,000 or greater, while more than a quarter of Web surfers completed post graduate studies.

The availability of Internet-ready devices like cheap PCs, handheld computers and set top boxes, combined with widely available and affordable broadband access, will accelerate the move to the Net in the next few years, Chun said.

The devices are already starting to proliferate, the report concludes. "What is sorely lacking right now is high-speed access."

ZD Market Intelligence, formerly Computer Intelligence, has its U.S. headquarters in La Jolla, California, and European headquarters in Paris, France. The company is on the Web at http://www.zdintelligence.com/.

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