Commentary

Just An Online Minute... Broadband Usage Ebbs

Paul J. Gough is filling in for Masha Geller on today's Online Minute.

Internet users are spending more time online but the higher-end DSL and cable connected population is spending less time there.

Those are among the surprising findings of the 2003 Technology User Report, published by marketing research firm MetaFacts of Encinitas, Calif. MetaFacts released some of data Wednesday morning and will detail further analysis in coming weeks.

The survey of more than 11,000 people found half of personal Internet users spent more than 11 hours a week online. That's up slightly from the 49% reported in 2002 and the 45.1% in 2001. It also tracks with studies that have shown the growth rate of Internet use since the mid-1990s, although some suggest that the growth will continue to slow. For instance, data released by eMarketer during MediaPost's Forecast 2004 conference last week showed the online user population will grow by 4.5% in 2003 compared to a growth rate of almost twice that a year ago.

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Heavy home use - defined as spending 21 hours or more online every week - has also increased to 26.3% of the population, according to MetaFacts. Just under 20% of home users spent 21 hours or more a week online in 2001.

Yet MetaFacts suggests that the shift toward broadband connections doesn't always mean that you spend more time online than your dial-up cousins. The study found that 63.1% of broadband users spend 11 or more hours a week on broadband. But MetaFacts points out that those numbers actually dropped from 2002, when 65.7% reported they spent more than 11 hours online.

MetaFacts principal analyst Dan Ness said Wednesday afternoon that there's been a drop in the use of broadband for things like downloading music and software, buying computer hardware and software and creating Web pages.

An observer not connected to MetaFacts suggests that perhaps there's a chill in the Internet community after the recording industry's recent attempts to stop file sharing. With that use at the very least curtailed, then maybe a big reason to spend more time online would be out the window.

Ness said that the attempts to stop file sharing seems to be part of it, but that more of it has to do with the broadband users' wariness of being so exposed to spam, unwanted pop ups and other annoyances.

"The chill is not just about the legal issues of downloading music or about the exposure to unwanted emails, but also Americans' concerns about their privacy while browsing the Web," Ness said.

Findings from comScore, an online media measurement company, show that in August, the average broadband user spent 1,264 minutes a month online compared to 1,026 minutes a month dialup.

As for broadband use, data from eMarketer shows that penetration is still growing. Broadband will grow at least 34% in 2003, eMarketer said. More than a fifth of all U.S. households will have broadband soon, eMarketer predicts.

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