Sharing Internet Access in Latin America

The Internet is a relatively new technology that has grown remarkably quickly in just a few years.  Being a medium itself, the Internet has received a great deal of media attention and coverage.  Right at the heart of the matter is this question, "How many Internet users are there right now?"  This is the stuff where many business plans are premised upon.

For a personalized technology such as the palm pilot, it is plausible to equate the number of users with the number of products that are in circulation.  But there is not one, but many ways by which people can access the Internet.  Therefore, it is no easy task to estimate the number of Internet users.  While general population surveys are the proper means of estimation, they require large sample sizes in order to profile this still relatively small segment of the population.  Such general population surveys are too expensive to conduct except infrequently and as part of omnibus surveys.

In lieu of general population surveys, one might be tempted to use surrogates that are more readily available.  For example, in a particular country or region, one might estimate the number of Internet users by aggregating the total number of user accounts of the largest Internet service providers there.  Unfortunately, this is a serious underestimate because an Internet user account may be shared by many people.  The process and extent of such sharing behavior is a much less documented fact.

We will now cite some data from the study conducted by IBOPE Colombia in Colombia.  According to this survey, 247,000 persons between the ages of 12 and 64 years old have accessed the Internet from their homes during the past 90 days (note: we omit any discussion of Internet access from offices, schools, public kiosks, other people's homes and all other locations outside of the respondent's home).  For each home user, we asked, "How many people in the home, including yourself, are Internet users?"  The results are summarized in this chart:

In fact, if anything, the number of households with a single Internet user is a rarity.  It is unclear whether these people share the same user account or own separate accounts, but it is quite clear that there can be a serious bias in equating the number of Internet user accounts with the number of Internet users.


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