How many people use the internet?

The number of Internet users

The number of people who use the Internet is said to be huge. In 1993, only 1.3 million computers were linked together with an estimated worldwide audience of approximately 8 million. In 1996, the Internet linked over 2 million computers with an estimated worldwide audience of anywhere between 20 and 50 million. At the end of the twentieth century, the number of users has reached well over 100 million. In June 2001, the number has reached 300 million worldwide.

Now it has been projected there will be a billion people connected to the Internet by the year 2010. (1)

The trend in 1996

The country with the largest number of online users is the United States. A study by research group FIND/SVP in early 1996 and another by high profile media research group Neilsen in October 1995 suggests the total number of Internet users in the USA alone was roughly between 9.5 and 16.5 million and has grown by an extra 4 million by December 1996. (2)

In Australia, the number of regular Internet users as of 1996 may have represented only about 7 per cent of the total online population of the world. But according to a privately conducted 12-month survey carried out by Telstra Corporation on over 1000 randomly selected Internet users in the metropolitan areas of Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra, it was estimated that the number of regular online users has reached over 1 million. (3)

Australian Bureau of Statistics for 2000. Figures quoted on page 113 of Australian Personal Computers May 2000, in an article entitled The Clever Country?

Other figures released by Telstra in June 1996 suggest that 16 per cent of the total Australian population over the age of 15 have accessed the Internet at least once and the figure is expected to grow considering that 47 per cent of all households in Australia currently have a personal computer. Because of these numbers, Telstra suggested that Australia was probably ranked among the four top Internet countries in the world after the USA, Canada and Japan and could go even higher before the end of the year. Full details of the survey will not be released for a while yet as Mr Chris Haigh of Telstra has confessed:

"The details of the survey are regarded as commercial in confidence, as we may use the information to develop future strategies. Others can pay for their own surveys." (4)

By January 1997, those strategies have been realised after Telstra released its full range of Internet products and services to the Australian public. Today, Telstra has become the market leader in Internet services for Australian businesses and the average consumer.

A survey performed by AGB McNair in July 1996 confirms Telstra's estimated total number of regular Internet users in Australia. AGB McNair's own figure for the number of solid core users was approximately 1.037 million. This new figure had revamped an earlier one made in August 1995 of 700,000. In addition, AGB McNair's recent poll has published a figure of those people over 18 years of age who have accessed the Internet at least once at around the 2.772 million mark. (5)

But an independent survey conducted by IT consultants Mr William Pape and Mr Ramin Marzbani on the total number of Internet users in Australia whose results were obtained in a personal interview with Mr William Pape has put the figure more conservatively at around 800,000. Of these, approximately 400,000 log in as anonymous users through academic accounts at schools, universities, public libraries and employment agencies, while the remainder are registered users with commercial Information Service Providers (ISPs). In addition, almost 250,000 users who subscribe to commercial ISPs access the Internet at home while the remaining 150,000 or so have access from a business location. (6)

Furthermore, Pape says that the rate of increase in the number of registered household Internet users is between 7 and 8 per cent per month. For businesses accessing the Internet through a local ISP, this figure is closer to around 10-12 per cent and is increasing slightly probably as a result of an increasing demand for cheaper advertising in these tough economic times. The opposite is true for household users.

Marzbani is critical of the way Telstra has conducted its survey. In his words:

"This doesn't give an overall view of the country. They also surveyed Canberra [the highest internet users in Australia], which meant that the results were biased. It's hard to adjust and find equivalents for Adelaide, Perth or other cities." (7)

Marzbani was also particularly worried about the traditional survey technique of telephone polling used by Telstra:

"Most people have only one telephone line at home. The odds that the Telstra survey team would call them when people were actually using the Internet is high."

Australian trends in 2000

Number of Internet Users

The US-based Media Metrix whose job it is to measure Internet traffic and one of the original businesses to still offer this service has released in February 2001 the results of a survey of Australian consumers.

Of the 19.5 million people living in Australia, Media Metrix has found 6.8 million of those had Internet access at least once a month. This represents approximately 35 per cent of the total Australian population.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) supports a similar trend with 37 per cent of Australian households having access to the Internet by November 2000. This is up from 25 per cent from the previous year and 19 per cent in 1998.

Media Metrix has also found from the survey that Australia is now ahead of the US and Japan in percentage of Internet numbers compared to the country's population. Only Canada leads the world in higher level of Internet use.

While Australia remains among the highest users of the Internet, the number of Internet users has slowed during the second half of 2000. The primary cause for the tapering off of Internet numbers in Australia seems to be due to a number of factors. They include:

  1. The slump in PC sales since July 2000;
  2. A greater interest in the Sydney Olympics during September 2000; and
  3. The technology is still too expensive.

And now there is talk that it could take another 15 years before Internet use for Australian households reaches 75 per cent because of a more inherent problem with the technology and with people themselves, namely:

  1. It is still too complex and unwieldly for the technology to be used by the masses; and
  2. There are people, mainly the older and more experienced types, who have discovered the fact that they don't need to use the Internet to live, work and generally just survive comfortably in modern society.

The evidence to support the view that older people are not accessing the Internet in the same numbers as the young was echoed by the ABS. According to the ABS, statistics show that from the age of 55 or over, 20 percent of Australians accessed the Internet in 2000; between the age of 40 and 54, about 50 per cent; between the age of 25 and 39, about 66 per cent; and between the age of 18 and 24, nearly three-quarters accessed the Internet.

Despite this slowing down of overall Internet numbers and the difficulties in getting older people to join the Internet revolution, people aged 35 years or under are still likely to adopt the technology in very high numbers because:

  1. they are more susceptible to social pressures to join the Internet; and
  2. they are required by employers to use the technology to perform certain types of jobs.

Computer trends

According to results gathered by the ABS for 1998-99, it has found that of all the states except the ACT the national average for the number of households having a home computer was 42 per cent, with Victoria having the highest number of computers in the home of around 47 per cent. However, the national average jumps to 46 per cent when the ACT figures are added. In other words, the ACT pushed the national average figure because it led the nation in computer access in the home with a figure of 66 per cent of all ACT households.

As for using the home computer frequently, the ACT clearly dominates the statistics with a figure of around 56 per cent of households compared to the national average of 36 per cent (after including the ACT figures). In 2002, the figure for the ACT has now reached 60 per cent. There were approximately 74,000 ACT households in 2002.

It should be remembered that the ACT is a small state with a population of around 300,000 living and working mostly in the capital city of Canberra. This means a lot of people are likely to have access to or use regularly a computer at work and/or home. Combine this with a strong IT industry prevalent in the ACT worth AUS$1.3 billion a year and the Australian national average figures for home computer ownership and usage will be naturally skewed when taking into account the ACT trends.

Canberra is described as one of the most IT-literate cities in the world according to a report from the National Office for the Information Economy entitled, Current State of Play. This confirms the view that Canberra is Australia's most technologically-advanced community.

Internet trends

The statistics also show that Internet access is considered one of the most important reasons for owning and using a home computer. In the ACT, around 58 per cent of homes with computers have modems for accessing the Internet compared with the national average of 48 per cent.

As for actually using the home computer for Internet access, 27 per cent of ACT homes with computers had this facility already installed and used regularly by both children and adults alike. The national average was 16 per cent (or 17 per cent in 2001). (8)

But when it comes to Internet access from work, the figure suddenly jumps to 62 per cent, which is ahead of all other cities in the world. (9)

The most exciting pasttime it would seem for adults using the Internet in 2002 appears to be paying bills or transfering funds for 23 per cent of the adult Internet population, up from 17 per cent in 2001. Accessing government web sites seem to be more popular in 2002 for 21 per cent of the adult Internet population compared to 16 per cent in 2001.

The number of Internet shoppers has also increased nationally by 34 per cent since 2001 together with a corresponding increase in the amount of money spent on the Internet. About 34 per cent of the Internet shoppers have spent more than A$1,000 in 2002 compared to 19 per cent in 2001.

UK trends in 2000

According to Sally Eden, GMTV's Net correspondent writing for the December 2000 edition of the UK Internet Made Easy - The Magazine for Internet Beginners, she said:

"Recent figures from The Parents Information Network—which was set up to provide parents with good solid advice about computers and the Internet—show that 50 per cent of households and some 33 per cent of all families have some kind of Internet connection at home." (10)

Australian trends in 2006

The Australian Bureau of Statistics published the latest internet trends for 2006 in its publication, Internet Activity Survey. As of September 2006, more than 6.6 million Australian households and businesses had internet access. This is an increase of 11.3 per cent since the last survey in March 2005. And high-speed cable and wireless broadband access is the preferred method of access over dial up.