'Always on' Internet Changing American Life

"Always on" broadband Internet hook-ups are transforming American life, empowering grass roots politics, moulding new work and shopping habits and bringing far flung families closer.

A major new survey published Wednesday also found that the most explosive growth in online time was among low income web surfers, who had previously been excluded from the Internet revolution.

"The Internet has clearly matured across all segments of American society," said Jeffrey Cole, director of the University of South California Annenberg School Center for the Digital future, which conducted the survey.

The project, the fifth annual release of the study, yielded "extraordinary findings about how the Internet continues to change America," Cole said.

In 2005, more Americans than ever before were on the Internet -- 78 percent of the population -- and their use of the medium rose to an average of 13.3 hours a week.

For the first time, a broadband connection is the most popular way for US users to access the web -- 48 percent compared to the 45 percent of users still drumming their fingers as their computer labors through a dial up process.

"It is really the always on (factor) which changes our relationship with the Internet long term," Cole said, at an advance briefing on the report for congressional staffers last week.

Whereas dial-up consumers typically get online two to three times per day for around 30 minutes, those with broadband links frequently log on to check news, shop or to chase down information, Cole said.

E-mail remains the most popular online activity, followed by general web surfing, reading news, shopping and entertainment -- and only 27 percent of users said they would give up the Internet over their cell phone or television.

Internet use is also becoming more available across the economic digital divide. In 2005, Internet use among those with incomes of less than 30,000 dollars rose to 61 percent, after hovering around 50 percent for four years.

"The fastest growing use of the Internet is among those with the lowest income," said Cole.

The survey also found online campaigning is transforming US politics and empowering individual voters dwarfed by the might of the print and broadcast media.

The online revolution could even allow a third-party candidate to break the two-party Republican/Democrat monopoly of US politics, said Cole.

"The Internet will forever change the course and nature of American politics.

"The Internet is no longer a marginal force in American politics -- it is quickly becoming the central force in empowering voters," Cole said.

Cole said at the congressional briefing that 40 percent of Internet users now believe going online can give people more political power.

A majority of Internet users told the survey that the Internet was having no influence on the time they were spending with family and friends. But 40 percent said it had increased contact with close relatives and friends.

The web is also playing an important role in keeping members of the US military, many fighting far flung conflicts, in touch with their families back home, the survey said.

Copyright 2005 Agence France Presse.

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