More U.S. households online than not

Cheaper computers, free ISPs are shrinking the digital divide, separate studies show.

There are now more homes in the United States wired for Web access than not, according to at least two different Internet traffic reports.

On Thursday, Nielsen/NetRatings reported that 52 percent of U. S. homes, or 144 million people, had access to the Internet in July. That represents a 35 percent jump in just a year.

Media Metrix Inc. (mmxi), in an earlier report, said American households actually reached the watershed in April, when 51 percent of American households had Internet access.

"This is just another affirmation that the Web is not a fluke," said Nielsen Ratings director and senior analyst Peggy O'Neill.

Lower prices for hardware, the emergence of free Internet service providers and affordable broadband fueled the jump in numbers, and will likely continue to drive more people onto the Web, O'Neill said.

The availability of flat rate pricing for unlimited Internet access -- which has made the United States by far the most wired nation in the world -- was cited as another reason for the shrinking digital divide.

"All our ISPs are geared towards this type of pricing structure," O'Neill said. "Go abroad, and you can't find these monthly deals, the money starts ticking the moment you go online."

Americans are also spending more time once they get online, increasing their Web usage by as much as two hours per month since July 1999, according to the Nielsen findings.

Although nearly one third of all Web users are accessing streaming media, according to Nielsen, 56K modems remain the norm.

But there are signs that is likely to change: The number of households wired for DSL or other high-speed lines has nearly doubled since October, from 5 percent to 9 percent, O'Neill said.

In yet another study, Forrester Research Inc. (forr) predicted that 70.3 million households would be online in 2004, which is close to 75 percent of all homes.