Comparing the borders of on-line Internet usage

The numbers are in, and Canadians have beat Americans at spending more time on-line.

According to a study conducted in May by Markham, Ont.-based Neilsen//NetRatings, Canadian Web surfers spent nearly 30 more minutes on-line than U.S. Internet users, averaging more sessions and page views. All this is despite the U.S. having ten times more active Internet users than Canada, said Sean Kaldor, VP of E-commerce at NetRatings.

“We’re building research panels to understand in-depth, second by second Internet behaviour,” Kaldor said. “This is for the purpose of companies doing business on-line or selling advertising on-line.”

Nielsen//NetRatings is an Internet audience measurement service, provided by Nielsen Media Research, and NetRatings Inc. Kaldor said that the reason that Canadians are spending more time on-line is hard to nail to one specific issue.

“I think there is a better use of the Internet by the (Canadian) government,” Kaldor said. “There’s a smaller, more focused group of retailers in Canada and merchants, and they have strongly embraced the Internet to protect against the American retailers moving into Canada.”

According to the study, the active Internet Universe (actually surfed) is 8.1 million in Canada, as opposed to 82.7 million in the U.S. The current Internet Universe estimate of those who had access, but did not necessarily go on-line was 13.1 million in Canada, and 134.2 million in the U.S. The average number of unique sites visited that month per person was 18 in Canada, and 10 in the U.S.

“Canadians are going on far more sites than Americans,” Kaldor said. “There is a lot more opportunity for brand switching.”

IDC Canada Internet analyst, Jim Westcott, said the reason may be due to subscription fees.

“It might be less costly to do it in Canada,” Westcott said. “There was some talk in the U.S. that they were going to change their local calling access because of the use of the Internet. So, instead of the flat monthly rate fee, they were going to charge by the minute or by the hour, which would definitely have an affect on the length of time people are using the Internet.”

According to the president of Nielsen Media Research Canada, David Tattle, Canada is among the leading countries boasting Internet penetration.

“With Canadian Internet users averaging more time on-line than U.S. Web surfers, it’s clear that the Web is a vital medium for communication, entertainment and commerce in Canada,” Tattle said.

However, not everyone agrees.

According to Patrick Callinan, on-line penetration in Canada is actually lower than in the U.S.

“In general, Canada is about a year behind the U.S. in terms of on-line penetration of households,” said Callinan an analyst with Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass. “Even though PC penetration is higher, on-line penetration is lower because there’s an overhang of older machines in Canada.”

Callinan said it is possible those currently on-line are less mainstream than the United States, where the Internet has already gone mainstream.

“Their (Canadian) usage is more intense and more resembled to an early adapter profile,” Callinan said.

Graeme Hirst, a professor of computer science at the University of Toronto, said Canada has long been seen as a wired society.

“This does continue a sort of trend that’s been noted before in other aspects of use of communications and computer technology,” Hirst said.

He continued, however, that it is difficult to see any profound discrepancy.

“It just points up to one of those little Canada/U.S. differences, that probably is accentuated just by the border. So, if you divvied the continent in to two horizontal stripes, I bet you would find just as big a difference between the top stripe and the bottom stripe of the U.S.,” Hirst said. “But because we have that border there, we just divide the continents into two stripes, and we see this difference and we call it a national difference.”