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Pew Study Finds Web's Reach Expanding

A study released Monday by the Pew Internet and American Life Project finds millions of Americans turn to the Web as a key source for their information needs.

The Pew study, entitled "Counting on the Internet," surveyed more than 2,000 people, finding that 60 percent of Americans now have Internet access, and 40 percent have been using the Web for more than three years. The authors of the study say the Internet has become a "mainstream information tool."

The study says most Internet users find healthcare, government, news and shopping information to be the most reliable, and useful to them. In many cases, folks would rather go on the Web to find some information, rather than navigating a government or healthcare company phone system.

"The dissemination of the Internet has transformed how many Americans find information and altered how they engage with many institutions, such as government, health care providers, the news media, and commercial enterprises," the study says.

The study focused on a variety of topics, but found that many Internet users turned to the Web for healthcare and government information. The study said "for health care information, 31% of all Americans said they would first turn to the Internet. For government information, 39% of all Americans said they would first turn to the Net."

Another area of growth is Americans appetite for online news. Pew's research found that in "March 2000, about 52 million Americans (or 60% of Internet users) has gone online for news, a figure that increased to 82 million (or 70% of Internet users) by October 2002."

The study also found that many surfers utilize the Web to find people, but found Americans are more skeptical about the personal information they find. The study said that "personal online detective work" has become popular, but said that only "35% of Internet users have come to expect the Net to have reliable information about people."

The results of the Pew study are based on information from telephone interviews conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates between September 9 and October 6, 2002, among a sample of 2,092 adults, 18 and older.