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After a brief interlude when it looked like Internet growth, at least in the US, was showing signs of leveling off, more recent numbers show access has again risen sharply. Between December 2000 to April 2002, figures for the percent of the US population with access to the Internet remained at approximately 59 percent (Nua.com, 2001). Yet, recent figures show a rapid rise, from 66 percent in 2003 to 75 percent in 2004, representing over 200 million people in the US (Nielsen NetRatings, 2004). Worldwide, the top 10 countries (Sweden, Hong Kong, US, Iceland, Netherlands, Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Denmark and South Korea) show similar Internet access statistics, with 62 to 74 percent of each country’s population having access (Internet World Stats, 2004). Numbers are dramatically different when examined by region, with only 1.4 percent of Africa and 7 percent of Asia and the Middle East with access (Internet World Stats, 2005) but so are growth rates 187% for Africa, 126% for Asia, and 228% for the Middle East (for other figures around the world, see ClickZ Stats, 2005). In all it is hard to dispute the increasing presence and penetration of the Internet around the globe. Along with this increased access come many social changes. This rapid adoption brings with it new ways to seek and distribute information, communicate with others, foster communities, and produce, share and sell goods, culture products and services naturally raises a vast range of enduring as well as new social and policy issues. This chapter reviews relevant research on three primary issues -- (1) access, (2) civic, politi¬cal and community involvement, and (3) social interaction and forms of expression -- by grouping arguments and results into pessimistic and optimistic perspectives. Although the phenomena are occurring worldwide, this review addresses largely US outcomes.

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