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The Internet is changing the way Canadians access their daily news and do their banking, according to a government survey that suggests a crisp morning paper and a stroll to the local branch to pay bills is becoming a thing of the past.

A Statistics Canada study of Internet use shows that roughly 60 per cent of Canadians web users banked and received their news and sports reports on-line in 2005. However, even as people grew more comfortable on the Internet, three-quarters said they had strong concerns about privacy and security.

Overall Internet access has held steady over the past two years. The study found that 61 per cent - an estimated 7.9 million - of Canadian households had an Internet connection in 2005, up slightly from nearly 60 per cent the previous year.

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Two-thirds of Canadian adults surfed the Web in 2005, with the vast majority who turned to the Internet for personal reasons using it to browse favourite sites or e-mail family and friends. Two-thirds of users use the Web for researching weather and road conditions, 63 per cent use it to make travel arrangements, while 62 per cent logged on to view news reports or sports updates.

"The Internet has also become an important way to conduct financial affairs and to interact with governments," the Statscan report said.

Six of every 10 households turned to the Web to do their banking in 2005, while 55 per cent paid their bills on-line. More than one-half - 57 per cent - of home users went on-line to window shop, and 43 per cent have taken it a step further and bought items over the Internet.

Although women logged on as much as men, they were more likely to use the Internet to research health and medical conditions. Women reported searching for data on specific diseases, lifestyle, certain symptoms, and for information on drugs or medications.

While women were looking for health data, men were more likely to spend their on-line time searching for information about government programs, downloading government forms and filing income tax returns.

One divide between users and non-users of the Web is geographic location, Statscan said, with people in Canada's large cities more likely to have logged on last year than those living in rural areas or small towns.

For example, 75 per cent of the population of Halifax used the Internet in 2005, compared with 62 per cent in the rest of Nova Scotia. Part of the reason is that Halifax has a concentration of universities, government and health care institutions that attract younger students and working professionals with higher incomes.

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"In general, larger cities have younger populations and more residents with higher levels of income and education, all related to higher rates of Internet use," Statscan said. "The concentration of population also presents an attractive market for Internet service providers."

The so-called digital divide - the gap in the rate of Internet use among certain groups of people - still exists, Statscan said, listing income, education, and age as the factors that influence Internet use.

Among households with an income of $86,000 or more, 88 per cent of adults used the web, compared with 61 per cent in households earnings less than $86,000. Four-fifths of Canadians with post-secondary education access the Internet, compared with 49 per cent who are less educated.

In terms of the age divide, 85 per cent between the ages of 18 and 44 surfed the Web, compared with 50 per cent among those over the age of 45.

Not surprisingly, people living in homes with children were more likely to use the Internet. About 81 per cent of people in households with kids logged on, compared with 61 per cent in households made up solely of adults.

About 90 per cent of Canadians used the Internet for personal non-business reasons from home, Statscan said.

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Just under one-half - 49 per cent - of employed Internet users between the ages of 35 and 45 accessed it from work for personal non-business use, while 91 per cent of full-time students under the age 25 used it from school.

How long are Canadians spending on-line? Almost two-thirds said they used it every day during a typical month and just under one-quarter reported using it 10 hours or more during a typical week.

Among Canadians who had home access to the Internet last year, more than one-quarter said they had no interest or need for it. Others said it cost too much (16%) or that it was too hard to use (12%).

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