"Japan is transforming itself into a ``New Economy,'' with the number of households connected to the Internet nearly doubling last year.
"The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications said in an annual report on Tuesday that 19.1 percent of Japan's 45 million households were connected to the Internet, up from 11.0 percent a year earlier. In 1997, the usage rate was 6.4 percent.
"That number was roughly in line with a report by a private Japanese think tank, InfoCom Research Inc, which said that 31 million people were using the Internet in Japan as of March. That translates into about a quarter of Japan's population of 125 million.
"InfoCom said that it expected the number of users to surge to over 100 million by March 2004. By comparison the United States, which has roughly twice the population, is already said to have over 100 million Internet users.
"... With its mobile phones being transformed into handheld web browsing platforms, Japan is betting that the combination of mobile phone and Internet access growth will propel it to the forefront of the Internet revolution and ensure its gradual climb out of a decade-long economic slump.
"The ``i-mode'' system, which allows users to browse the Internet on business-card sized screens on their mobile phones, has turned its maker NTT Docomo into one of Japan's most highly prized companies.
"The i-mode service is already the country's top Internet service provider (ISP), and NTT Docomo projects the number of i-mode subscribers will nearly double to 10 million by year-end.
``The Internet and mobile phone growth are certainly complementing each other,'' said Lee.
"Still, the Internet market remains much smaller in Japan than in the United States.
"International Data Corp. (IDC), another market research firm, said it expects the number of U.S. Internet users to grow to 177 million by the end of 2003.
"Worldwide, IDC said in 1998 the number of users topped 142 million, with the total expected to grow to 502 million by 2003.
"The MPT survey is conducted on an annual basis and covered 3,657 households and 2,023 companies.