The number of people using the Internet worldwide continued to grow in 2002, though the increase was slower than in 2001, according to figures released by the United Nations (U.N.).

Worldwide, 592 million people had Internet access in 2002, though the annual rate of growth dropped to 20 percent from 27 percent in 2001, according to the yearly "E-Commerce and Development Report," issued Thursday by the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). UNCTAD established its numbers based on the global index of information and communication technology (ICT) access put together by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in Geneva, coupled with its own calculations.

The digital divide between developed countries like the U.S., which has the highest rate of Internet users in the world, and developing countries is still wide. However, developing countries are experiencing faster growth due in part to demographic patterns, such as younger populations and faster overall population growth, the report said.

In 2002, there was 12 percent growth in Internet users in developed countries, to 401.7 million users. That compares to an almost 40 percent jump for developing countries to 189.9 million Internet users. Despite the jump, slightly less than 10 percent of the world's population had access to the Internet by the end of 2002, the report said. Internet hosts are also more concentrated in the developed world, with North America and Europe accounting for 89 percent of all Internet hosts.

Internet access by region (in millions)

Region 2002 2001 2000 Percentage change 2001-2002 Percentage change 2000-2001
Asia 201.08 150.47 109.26 33.6 37.7
North America 170.2 156.82 136.97 8.5 14.5
Europe 166.39 143.92 110.82 15.6 29.9
Latin America and Caribbean 35.56 26.16 17.67 35.5 48
Oceania (including Australia and New Zealand) 10.5 9.14 8.25 14.9 10.8
Africa 7.94 6.51 4.56 22.0 42.8
Source: ITU and UNCTAD

Internet users by country (in millions)
Country 2002 2001 2000 Percentage change 2001-2002 Percentage change 2000-2001
U.S. 155.0 142.8 124 8.53 15.18
China 59.1 33.7 22.5 75.37 49.78
Japan 57.2 48.9 38 16.97 28.68
Germany 35.0 30.8 24.8 13.64 24.19
Korea, Republic of 26.3 24.4 19.04 7.75 28.05
U.K. 24.0 19.8 15.8 21.21 25.32