- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2001

The share of adult Americans using the Internet has hit 50 percent, but access still varies depending on race, sex, age and income, according to a recent study.
Adult Internet access rose from 88 million users to more than 104 million in the second half of 2000, according to the study released Sunday by the Washington-based Pew Internet Project.
Internet use is up among all groups men and women, young and old, rich and poor, and all races, a trend analysts say is the result of cheaper computers and expansion of networks.
"The overall Internet population continued to grow at a healthy clip as women, minorities, those earning between $30,000 and $50,000 flocked on line, and parents with children flocked on line," the study read.
The increases largely are due to what he called the "networking effect," said Lee Rainie, the Pew Internet Project's director and the author of the report.
"If more and more of your friends and colleagues are on line, it just adds to the incentive to get on line," Mr. Rainie said.
The study was based on telephone interviews of 3,493 adults between Nov. 22 and Dec. 21 of last year. The results were compared to an identical survey conducted May 2 and June 30 of last year.
The Internet population is beginning to look more like the population at large, according to the study. But its authors acknowledged "noticeable demographic differences when it comes to access."
Internet access reached 82 percent in households with incomes of $75,000 or greater. But access was 38 percent in those households earning $30,000 or less.
There is an even greater gap between younger and older Americans. The study said 75 percent of those between 18 and 29 have Internet access, compared to only 15 percent of those over 65.
"[Older Americans] are probably not as convinced it's a life-changing thing for them," Mr. Rainie said. "Plus, maybe they've heard a bunch of stuff about how the on-line environment is a nasty place."
While the study itself offered little insight into the increase in Internet access, Mr. Rainie offered some possible explanations, including the "networking effect," gift-buying during the holiday season, and interest surrounding the presidential election.
The Pew study also said 48 percent of Internet users got political news from the Internet between November and December, up from 34 percent between May and June.
"Clearly, that was going on," Mr. Rainie said. "This was an episode that took the Internet as a news medium to a higher level. Internet news operations were better equipped than the broadcast news in many places. A lot of people really appreciated it for that."
Some technology analysts concurred with Mr. Rainie's hypotheses.
"I'm not at all surprised by the result of the study," said Gene Alvarez, analyst with the META Group. He also said the expansion of certain broadband networks has made Internet more accessible to some people, and that the increase in sales of personal computers for under $1,000 has made them more available to people with lower incomes.
Computers are cheaper, but still too expensive for some. Mr. Alvarez said newer technologies should bring prices down even further.
The Pew study found that while Internet access was on the rise, the amount of time spent on line was decreasing.
"There was a slight decrease at the end of the year in the number of people who use the Internet for two or more hours and a slight increase in the number who use the Internet for between an hour and two hours a day," the study read.
Technology analysts and Mr. Rainie attributed the decline in time on line to faster Internet connections, more familiarity with the Internet and greater use of "portal" sites, which reduce the need to surf the Web.

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