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Growth in U.S. Net population levels off

The number of Net users in the United States expanded much more slowly in the past two years compared with previous years, but many of the 126 million people who are online are becoming more attached to the Web.

The number of Internet users in the United States expanded much more slowly during the past two years compared with previous years, but many of the 126 million people who are online are becoming more attached to the Web.

Those findings and numerous others were released Monday in a report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, which has been studying the online habits of more than 64,000 Americans for more than three years.

While e-mail and searching for information are far and away the most popular online pastimes in the United States, online banking, travel planning, participating in an online auction and downloading music have become the fastest-growing Internet activities in recent years, according to the study.

The number of Americans who access their bank accounts online more than doubled between 2000 and 2002, to 34 million people, the study said. Affluent, educated people are more likely to bank online. Online auction activity nearly doubled during the past three years, while music downloading climbed 71 percent, to 36 million people who've done so as of about a year ago.

Searches for medical, political and spiritual information account for a growing number of Web queries, as do work and school-related activities, the study found.

The instant-messaging community grew by about a third from 2000 to 2002, to 52 million. Instant messaging is particularly popular among teenagers and young adults, the survey said. Online news searching is also on the rise, with 50 percent more people doing it as of a year ago compared with March 2000. Major news events, such as the 2000 presidential election and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, have fueled online news consumption, the study suggested.

Almost two-thirds of American adults used the Internet as of August, and more than 66 million go online on any given day, according to the study. Nearly a third of the people who use the Web from home have a high-speed connection, the study said. The U.S Web population is split nearly evenly between men and women, while seniors and blacks are less likely to log on.

The survey indicates that the drop off in the number of people getting online for the first time began toward the end of 2001. "As the Internet increasingly became part of everyday life for Americans, there were no longer droves of new users rushing online," the report said. "This flattening trend appeared across all demographic groups."