/ 1 January 2002

Internet, e-commerce boom despite economic woes

Use of the Internet is booming all around the world, bucking the global economic downturn and the crisis in the information technology industry, according to United Nations figures issued on Monday.

An annual report by the UNCTAD trade and development agency forecast that registered Internet users could total 655-million by the end of 2002, a year-on-year increase of 30%.

At the same time, the value of electronic commerce — goods and services bought and sold over the Internet — could reach as high as $2,3-billion this year, a 50%

rise from last year, climbing to around $3.9 billion at the end of 2003.

The UNCTAD report, which quotes figures from another UN agency — the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) — are watched closely given the absence of any reliable statistics on global e-commerce, which analysts say are still difficult to compile.

UNCTAD said in its ”E-Commerce and Development Report” report that at present growth rates around 18%of all purchasing by firms and individuals could be done in cyberspace by 2006.

The forecast figure for the total of Internet users by the end of this year would take the number of people using the system — whether for seeking information, messaging or purchases — to one tenth of the world’s population.

But while connections were increasing in developing countries and accounted for one third of all new users in 2001, the overall percentage of the population using the Internet was still far higher in rich nations, UNCTAD said.

The United States had more users in absolute terms than any other single country last year with a total of nearly 143-million, the report said. It was followed by China with some 56,6-million.

In Japan some 45% of the population had access — a year-on-year increase of 55%. In South Korea 51% were using the Internet, 27% more than in 2000, and in Britain nearly 40% had access, 33% up.

Although from a low base, use of the Internet was also growing rapidly in India, where 25% more people had access last year — or one in 147 of the population. Growth was strong also in Latin America — especially in Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Venezuela.

In Africa as a whole the number of dial-up Internet subscribers increased 30% last year and now totalled 1,3-million.

Including North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, 6,7-million people used the Internet last year — 46% up on 2000 but still only one in every 118 people living on the continent.

Outside the five countries with the most users — South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco and Tunisia — only one African in 440 had access to the system, UNCTAD said.

And with the exception of South Africa, direct business-to-business e-commerce — when firms place orders with each other over the Internet making major savings in cost and efficiency — was almost non-existent on the continent, it added. – Reuters