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Internet Users In Puerto Rico Near One Million

Average age of users down, while gender, socio-economic gaps disappear; now more netizens live outside metro area


April 10, 2003
Copyright © 2003 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

There are almost a million Internet users in Puerto Rico, according to a new study on the subject released today.

The "State of the Internet in Puerto Rico," a study by Research & Research in collaboration with Nobox Marketing Group for the Puerto Rico chapter of the Internet Society, points at 970,000 as the number of people in Puerto Rico who use the Internet. Reports in 2000 estimated Puerto Rico’s Internet users at around 551,000.

The $70,000 study, completed in December 2002, also reveals other findings about users’ gender, socio-economic status, Internet behavior, and other traits.

Carlos Garcia, Nobox’s chief client strategist partner, and Ramon Morales, president of both and the local chapter of the Internet Society, said that while the Internet hasn’t spread in Puerto Rico as much as it has on the U.S. mainland, the island is quickly gaining ground.

A key finding is that the average age of Internet users in Puerto Rico is decreasing. In 1997, the average age was 32, a year older than the average age of the entire population on the island, according to Garcia. Today, the average age of netizens in Puerto Rico is 24. This decline, said Garcia, will prompt a change in the types of services that will be offered to Internet users. Basically, this younger audience will demand faster, mobile high-tech options. They want better and cheaper access to chat and e-mail services, for example. It is likely that this segment will continue to drive the market as it matures, said Morales.

The study also indicates that the gender gap is closing. In 1997, 68% of Internet users on the island were male and 32% were female. By the end of 2002, 51% of the users were men and 49% were female.

Garcia explained that while earlier reports showed that the San Juan metro area had the highest concentration of Internet users, now 61% are outside that area. With that has come a change along socio-economic lines. In 1997, 84% of Internet users belonged to the middle- and high-income classes while 16% belonged to lower-income groups. Today, 58% of users belong to the former group while 42% are considered to be in the low-income segment.

Morales stressed this shift as one of the study’s most important revelations. For many years companies had opted not to invest in Internet advertising because they believed their target groups didn’t use the medium, something the study clearly refutes. The closing gap between rich and poor users reflects how quickly and effectively the Internet is penetrating all segments of the population.

Most individuals, 80% of them, preferred to use the Internet at home, while 12% did it from their workplace, 7% from school, and 1% from a friend’s house or elsewhere.

Other salient results of the study are that the average Internet user in Puerto Rico spends about 14 hours a week online, most of that time using search engines. In fact, 64% of those surveyed claimed they use the Internet to find information. Interestingly, 72% of those respondents are female. The second-biggest reason (cited by 36% of the respondents) for using the Internet is e-mail. Many said they use the Web primarily to search for news (23% of those surveyed), while 9% said they use the Web specifically to visit sports sites. Of the poll participants, 25% said they use online banking services. Most respondents also expressed a need for better and more e-government services; in fact, 60% of users over age 35 demanded it.

Nearly half of those surveyed (47%) said they made at least one purchase over the Internet in the 12 months before the data was compiled, with most of them buying an average of five items during that time. The most popular items were entertainment (57% of respondents), clothes and other apparel (29%), and computers and electronics (25%). Garcia said this presents a quandary for the growth of e-commerce in Puerto Rico. While most locals wouldn’t object to shopping over the Internet, many have no credit cards or other banking relationship, making it difficult for e-commerce to take off.

Garcia and Morales stressed that the study is the most methodologically accurate report ever available in Puerto Rico. Earlier studies were of limited scope, perhaps sponsored by an interested company. Misconceptions were rampant, to the point that Internet penetration in Puerto Rico was likened to that in Haiti, said Morales.

"The study is about correcting misconceptions," said Morales. "We need to eliminate the perception that we are relatively backward. This study shows tremendous promise at levels that have been unforeseen." He gave several reasons why the Internet has trickled down to most sectors of society, namely lower equipment costs, better financing, and especially that Internet service providers such as Puerto Rico Telephone have included Internet access and telephone service on one bill.

Research & Research’s Bruno Harring designed the study, basing the methodology on the 2000 census. First, the island was divided by population and socio-economic level. Then the researchers compiled the data from phone interviews and questionnaires from November to December 2002.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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