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A Less-American World Wide Web

The U.S. could be in danger of losing its lead as the most Web-savvy nation, according to a new survey that shows young people all over the world are clicking onto the Internet in increasing numbers.

"We're still seeing American youth at the leading edge of Internet awareness and usage, but Australia, South Korea, and the European countries are closing in and gaining online presence," says Gus Schattenberg, a senior analyst with the international research firm Ipsos-Reid. "The next generation of American Internet users has plenty of company from young people around the world."

The 10-country Ipsos-Reid survey found that 85% of Americans from 12 to 24 regularly surf the Web, vs. 59% of the overall adult population.

GLOBAL CLICKS. Though American youths remain global Web trendsetters, Internet use among the same age group has almost reached American levels in Australia (82%), South Korea (78%), and the Britain (72%).

Majorities of young Italians (55%) and Germans (51%) have gone online, with Spanish (45%) and French (41%) youths not far behind. Japan, where the proportion of young people online (39%) is only slightly higher than the general population, trails the pack, along with Argentina (27%), where young surfers nevertheless log on at twice the rate of their elders.

The overall numbers may signal some much-needed good news for the Internet economy. A surge in Internet use -- and online shopping -- is being predicted for 2003, when the first generation wired since their preteen years will reach adulthood. By Robin J. Phillips in New York

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