We're shopping more on the Net. Getting more entertainment ... doing more politicking ... and seeing more problems. Problems that are likely to grow. Maybe it's time to figure out a cohesive way to police the Net?
After all, cyber life is becoming a big part of American life. Figure this ... 75 percent of Americans have access to the Internet, according to Nielsen/Netratings numbers released this week. This marks an 18 percent increase since February 2003. Think about it ... that means 204.3 million Americans have Internet access from their home. All in less than 10 years.
And more people are moving around the Net faster. That's because more people are getting DSL and cable connections in their homes. In fact, for the first time, there is a major metropolitan area that has more people getting on the Net by these broadband connections versus dial-up, according to the latest numbers from comScore networks. And nine other cities are close behind (see table).
This is good news for e-businesses. With the Internet population is leveling off around 200 million users, more of them -- 36 percent at the end of 2003 -- are migrating to faster connections. That means more of the population will hang around longer.
"You actually see people spending more time online because you've eliminated the pain of waiting," said Gian Fulgoni, chairman of comScore Networks. "And they spend more money because online shopping is easier."
People spent about $52 billion on the Net last year ... $90 billion if you count the travel business .That was a 20 percent lift from the previous year. Most forecasts are calling for a similar increase this year. I suspect the actual numbers will turn out to be better because broadband adoption is accelerating. And retailers are beginning to make transactions smoother. And the entertainment sector of the online commerce industry -- music, short videos, flash animation -- is benefiting as well. Getting that old Traffic song downloaded takes less than a minute on a broadband connection. Would Apple have sold 50 million songs through iTunes without such connections?
Of course, there's a lot bad stuff too. Like crime.
Internet fraud made up 55 percent of the fraud cases reported to the Federal Trade Commission last year, a 10 percent increase over the year before. Internet auction fraud was the most common ploy. I'm willing to bet the faster people can bid, or falsify bids, the more phony auctions we'll see.
And how much more gambling will be done as fast moving Netizens stay online longer? Online gambling is illegal in the United States. But since the operations are offshore, federal prosecutors can't get at them.
And porn? Not an illegal Internet operation by any means, but one society certain wants to keep an eye on (no, not like that) and restrict to certain times and places.
And don't forget viruses. DSL and cable broadband connections offer quite a bit of opportunity for spreading cyber mischief and launching outright malicious attacks.
And spam. Sigh.
Yes, there is bad with the good. And with the Net, in less than 10 years, becoming a mainstream part of American life, we need to start approaching the bad more cohesively. Currently various local, state, and federal authorities try to police the Net in their own, narrow way. And the United Nations is making a stab at an international system of regulation.
None of this seems to be doing any good. As you look at the growing Internet numbers, take a look at progress on tackling the bad things. Do we have a Do Not Spam list yet? Are porn, gambling, viruses better or worse than they were one or two years ago? Is fraud at bay?
The traffic is growing and getting fast, but sooner or later we're going to need brakes.
Allen Wastler is Managing Editor of CNN/Money and a commentator on CNNfn.