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Poor people are the fastest growing American group in cyberspace, a survey claims.

The number of home surfers with low incomes in the US (classed as earning $25,000 or less a year) has increased 46 per cent in the last year, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

Last month there were 6.3 million low-income individuals in cyberspace, compared to 4.3 million in February 2000.

Of course, this growth could also be due to the fact that richer Americans have been flocking to the Net in droves over the last few years. The more financially challenged are simply starting to catch up.

But there was also pretty good growth in other income brackets - trailing just behind the poor were the "upper middle-class" surfers, earning a comfortable $50,000 to $74,999 per year. The number of surfers in this group leapt 42 per cent in the last year. They also make up the biggest sector of Internet users - there are more than 30 million of them milling around in cyberspace.

And users who earn between $25,000 and $49,999 per year grew 40 per cent, with 26 million people.

"Like other forms of media, Internet access was first adopted by higher income groups who were willing to pay the cost of personal computers and monthly ISP service charges," said NetRatings Internet Media Strategies director, T.S. Kelly.

"As the cost of personal computers and Internet access continues to drop, the doors have opened for lower income groups to tap into the Web."

He added that Net-equipped mobile phones, PDAs and video game consoles had also helped to "narrow the digital divide". ®

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