Half of Canadians will live in wired homes

Canadians are becoming accustomed to accessing the Internet from their offices, and that workplace functionality is increasingly driving them to sign-up for home-based access, according to a recent survey.

Internet use by Canadians soared last year, up 77 per cent from 1997, according to the Canadian Media Quality Ratings Survey (QRS) released by Nielsen Media Research and CBC Research. In mid-1998, 23 per cent of Canadian adults subscribed to an Internet service provider (ISP), compared with 13 per cent of subscribers during the same time in 1997.

“What seems to have happened is that people who have been exposed to [the Internet] outside the home began to feel that it was, in fact, a necessity to have this kind of service in the home to be able to get access to it 24 hours a day,” said Barry Kiefl, director of research for CBC.

The survey, which interviewed almost 3,000 Canadian adults, shows that 39 per cent of Canadians used the Internet in mid-1998 compared with 13 per cent in 1997, a jump of 12 percentage points.

Demographically, younger people, males, anglophones and higher-income families are more likely to be using the Internet, but that is a diminishing trend as Internet appeal expands to include more women and seniors.

Describing the surge in use as an “amazing phenomenon,” Kiefl said the increase represents a serious commitment, given the additional monthly expense of Internet service.

“This is not a minor expenditure for people. It’s not a one-time thing, it is an ongoing monthly charge in terms of home access through an ISP,” Kiefl said.

The 1998 QRS predicts that on-line use by Canadians will hit 50 per cent this year. According to Kiefl, the Internet is quickly becoming the fourth universal communication service in the home, next to the telephone, radio and television.

In fact, the America Online/Roper Starch Cyberstudy 1998, which took a sample of 1,001 American adults, reported that 67 per cent of Americans would prefer an Internet connection over a television or phone if stranded on a desert island. Nearly half of Internet users described the medium as being almost a necessity.

According to Joan Simkins, communications manager at Toronto-based AOL Canada, the trend in Canada is much like the U.S., with more subscribers performing research and making purchases on-line. Simkins said e-mail, which “may be the new form of letter writing,” is paramount to AOL Canada subscribers.

Any difference between Internet use in Canada and the U.S., Simkins said, may be attributed to market maturity “where it has grown a lot faster in the U.S.”

But CBC’s Kiefl said that may be true at the supply level, but at the consumer level the number of Canadian home users is still impressive. “I have never seen any similar data from the States that would say that they’re running ahead of Canada in that regard,” he said.