Internet revolution reaches more people with each day

WASHINGTON (AP) — Traffic on the Internet is doubling every 100 days, the government said Wednesday in the latest snapshot of the exploding information technology industry. Business use is growing fastest, but as many as 62 million Americans are now using the worldwide network and are even getting comfortable making credit card purchases.
The Commerce Department said 10 million people across the United States and Canada made purchases — from airline tickets to books to automobiles — on the World Wide Web by the end of 1997, up from 7.4 million people six months earlier.
It said business-to-business purchases, such as the wholesale purchase of supplies, could reach $300 billion by 2002 and routinely save some of America’s largest companies hundreds of millions of dollars by lowering their costs and reducing inventories.
“What is the report telling us? That the digital economy is alive and well and growing,” Commerce Secretary William M. Daley said.
But the department cautioned that consumers “must be more comfortable that credit card and personal information given online will not be tampered with, stolen or misused” before the potential of digital commerce is realized.
Some customers who already have made purchases say they aren’t particularly worried about the chance for credit theft. Edith Sorenson of Houston said she often buys books and makes travel arrangements, but generally only from established Web sites she’s familiar with.
“I usually feel pretty comfortable with it,” Sorenson said. “I’m a terrible shopper, anyway. I hate to leave my house. And with books — it takes like three or four days to get here. (Brick-and-mortar) book stores are badly stocked.”
“I bought a cigar humidor on the Internet and a print of a picture I saw at a museum, and in both cases I used my credit card,” said Peter Lucht of Washington, D.C. “I felt as comfortable doing that as I do giving it over the phone, maybe even more because of the encryption technology (retailers) say they’re using.”
Other key findings of the report:
— The Internet is growing faster than all other technologies that have preceded it. Radio existed for 38 years before it had 50 million listeners, and television took 13 years to reach that mark. The Internet crossed the line in just four years.
— In 1994, a mere 3 million people were connected to the Internet. By the end of last year, more than 100 million worldwide were using it, including 62 million Americans. Other estimates have put that number slightly lower, at 49 million Americans.
— The information technology industry is growing twice as fast as the overall economy. Without information technology, inflation in 1997 would have been 3.1 percent, more than a full percentage point higher than the 2 percent it was.
— Workers in the information technology industry earn an average of almost $46,000 annually, compared to an average of $28,000 in the private sector. Workers in the software and service industries are the highest wage earners, at almost $56,000 annually.
“Information technology is truly driving the U.S. economy — more than previous estimates had revealed,” said Rhett Dawson, president of the Information Technology Industry Council, a Washington-based trade group of U.S. information technology companies.
The report recommended that governments stay out of the growing industry, saying electronic commerce shouldn’t be “burdened with extensive regulation, taxation or censorship.”
Instead, the government should help provide legal frameworks for business on the Internet, and rules should result from “private collective action, not government regulation” whenever possible, the report said.
Last month the National Governor’s Association and local officials endorsed legislation by Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., to impose a three-year moratorium on new Internet taxes. President Clinton also supports the bill, which is pending in Congress.