The United States Internet Council, an industry-funded public policy group, estimated that 304 million people worldwide, most of them now from outside North America, used the Internet regularly as of March.
Over all, the on-line population is more than 3,000 times bigger than seven years ago and the World Wide Web, a graphic-rich part of the Internet with perhaps two billion pages, may have doubled in size in the first half of this year, the council said.
"As more users come on-line in Europe and Asia as well as the rest of the world, the Internet is becoming multicultural, multilingual and multipolar," it said in a report titled State of the Internet 2000.
The Internet - a network of networks - knows no national borders by design. But in its first decades of existence, U.S users and English-language content in effect had defined it as "a U.S.-centric environment," the report said.
English-speaking users in North America continue to be the largest single block of the on-line population. But the combinded total from Europe and Asia now outnumbers them, according to the study, carried out for the council by International Technology and Trade Associates, a consulting company that cited a wide range of sources.
The survey found that just more than half, or 51.3 per cent, of Internet users are native English speakers. But it did not cite a previous figure to illustrate a trend.
Mark Rhoads, vice-president of the council, said the Internet is changing so fast that chronicling its growth may no longer make much sense, especially as machines swap data more and more through the net.
Despite the reported trend toward a more global net, 78 per cent of all Web site are still in English, as are an overwhelming 96 per cent of electronic commerce sites, the study found.
It said Internet governance is increasingly international, notably thanks to regional representation on the board of the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers.
ICANN is the non-profit corporation formed to assume responsibility for domain name allocation, root serveer management and other technical issues, initially performed under U.S. government contract.
The council urged governments worldwide to adopt the U.S. government's "hands-off" approach to most questions of Internet regulation on the ground that the Internet is an amazing engine of economic growth.
"Precipitate government actions - to protect privacy, for example - could create a web of conflicting rules that would make e-commerce, and that kind of economic growth, impossible," it said.
Instead, it said governments should rely on the Internet community to regulate itself, leaving it market-driven rather than government directed.
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