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Growth in online use slows

The number of Americans surfing the Web climbed 16 percent in the past year, down from a 41 percent growth rate in the previous 12-month period.

In what may be a sign of the economic times, growth in home Web use in the United States dropped in the last year compared with the prior 12-month period, according to a Nielsen/NetRatings report released Monday.

The number of people jumping online from U.S. homes went from 88.2 million in July 2000 to 102.1 million a year later, a rise of 16 percent. That compares with a 41 percent increase during the previous yearlong period, from July 1999 to July 2000.

According to Sean Kaldor, vice president of analytical services at NetRatings, the smaller growth this year is a result of the economic downturn, sluggish PC sales and increased layoffs.

Although Kaldor predicts Internet penetration will continue to slow, he says the Net is starting to win over people who are wary of adopting new technologies.

Over the two-year period from July 1999 to this past month, Internet use has increased 63 percent, and last month, 58 percent of Americans had Web access in their homes. That compares with 52 percent a year ago and 39 percent in 1999.

"We're looking at a communications medium that can reach pretty much all of America," Kaldor said.

The report added that Web surfers are spending more time online, at an average of 10 hours and 19 minutes per surfer during July, up 7 percent from a year ago.

The Nielsen/NetRatings figures are the latest sign that typical Americans are gravitating toward the Web, integrating it into their daily lives. Web surfers are using the Web to search for gifts, send e-mail, conduct financial transactions and obtain tax information, among other things.

"We're way past the early adopters," Kaldor said. "We're into mainstream America with a variance of needs and interests." People sign up as they see the Net addressing their individual needs.

Nielsen/NetRatings also released its latest list of the 25 most-visited Web properties, with the top five rankings remaining steady. For the month of July, AOL Time Warner remained at the summit with 77.4 million unique users, followed by Yahoo with 68.99 million, MSN with 62 million, Microsoft with 40.1 million and the Lycos Network with 31.1 million.