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Thu, Jun 12th - 9:45PM

75 per cent of Canadians use Internet regularly

Almost all 16- and 17-year-olds in Canada have used the Internet either for doing school work, sending text messages, playing video games or listening to music, according to a study released today.

Statistics Canada said it included this age group for the first time in its Internet use survey and these teens accounted for part of the overall increase in online use in 2007.

"They're younger, but at the same time they're experienced users," said Statistics Canadian official Larry McKeown.

Overall, 73 per cent of Canadians aged 16 and older, or 19.2 million people, used the Internet mostly for e-mail and browsing. That's compared with 68 per cent in 2005, when the last survey was conducted.

Most of Canada's Internet users were in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario.

The survey found that 97 per cent of 16 and 17-year olds have used the Internet. McKeown said 70 per cent of that age group has used the Internet for five or more years.

"Internet use is really a hallmark for an information society," said McKeown, of Statistic Canada's science, innovation and electronic information division.

"Is this group of people, is this community, is this country ready to compete in an information society? So Internet use is an important hallmark of that, an indicator of what I might call digital literacy."

McKeown said Statistics Canada decided to include 16 and 17-year-olds because most other countries do so and this will allow more accurate international comparisons on Internet use.

"Secondly, there's so much interest in what younger Canadians are doing on the Internet," said McKeown, the division's chief of information society section.

Statistics Canada's study found most 16 and 17-year-olds – 94 per cent – were using the Internet for school work, 90 per cent used it to send instant text messages, 73 per cent to play games and 83 per cent to obtain or save music while 40 per cent uploaded photos and contributed to online discussions.

The agency said the survey showed that the digital divide, or gap in the rate of Internet use, still existed among certain groups of Canadians on the basis of income, education and age.

The survey also showed that people living in urban areas remained more likely to have used the Internet than those from smaller towns and rural areas.

Analyst Carmi Levy said Canada is moving toward an information-based society.

"The Internet is becoming a larger reality for more Canadians," said Levy, senior vice-president of strategic consulting at AR Communications Inc. in Toronto.

"That trend has been building for much of the last decade and it shows no signs of slowing down."

Levy said those who aren't using the Internet are going to get left behind.

"What is the impact on someone who is literally not plugged in to the Internet? There are some very serious social implications."

However, a note of caution was sounded for tech-savvy young people.

Matthew Johnson of the Ottawa-based Media Awareness Network said young people need to be taught Internet literacy skills.

"We're still finding that while the adoption is almost complete among young people, almost 100 per cent, a lot of essential skills around safety, around privacy, critical thinking are still are lacking in many young people," Johnson said.

He noted that some students don't recognize advertising when it's part of video game created by a company and don't seem concerned about it.

Teacher Michael Zwaagstra, who's also a research associate at the Winnipeg-based think-tank Frontier Centre for Public Policy,said young people have to understand the value of the information they are getting from the Internet.

"They need to be able to interpret it properly. It is concerning when the Internet becomes the only source of information," Zwaagstra said, adding students need to take the time to read books and go to the library.

The survey also found that 92 per cent of Canadians were using the Internet for e-mail in 2007, compared with 91 per cent in 2005.

Seventy-six per cent of Canadians used the Internet for general browsing for fun or leisure.

Statistics Canada also found that 70 per cent of Canadians were using the Internet to research family history or parenting.

In addition, 70 per cent used the Internet to obtain weather or road conditions last year, compared with 67 per cent in 2005; 66 per cent used it for travel information or to make travel arrangements (compared with 63 per cent two years ago).

And 63 per cent of Canadians used it for electronic banking or paying bills, compared with 61 per cent two years ago.

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