PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh is No. 1 — and we're not talking football.
Nielsen//NetRatings, a joint venture that does market research on online usage, said Thursday that Pittsburgh edged out Salt Lake City as the fastest-growing "wired city" in the nation last year.
That means a bigger percentage of the population in southwestern Pennsylvania began surfing the Internet in 2001 than anywhere else.
Ronald Gdovic, who is executive director of 3 Rivers Connect, a nonprofit organization that promotes the use of technology in the Pittsburgh region, said the growing use of the Internet is one of the area's "hidden secrets."
"There has been a lag in the Pittsburgh market. That's a function of our demographics," said Gdovic, who noted the area has a population that is older than many other cities. "But what we are seeing are the minority populations, the elderly populations, now warming up to technology."
According to T.S. Kelly, director and principal analyst for NetRatings, the numbers seem to indicate that fascination with the Internet is firmly taking hold in middle America, having already established itself in cities like New York, Seattle and San Francisco.
High-speed Internet connections may be the rage in those places, but the growth in new Internet users has slowed. It is in places like Pittsburgh and Cleveland and Raleigh, N.C., where big numbers of people are discovering the Internet, Kelly said.
"We're saying, 'Wow, there's a lot more growth happening in these markets,' " he said. "I look at this as the advanced stage of a successful product. . . . It (the Internet) is becoming a near-utility in some respects."
Nielsen//NetRatings figures show 20.4 percent more people in the Pittsburgh region were surfing the Net in December compared to the same time the previous year, the audience growing from 1,027,000 to 1,237,000.
That barely beat Salt Lake City, where Internet audience growth was 20 percent, from 811,000 people to 973,000 people.
Phoenix ranked third with 17 percent growth followed by Raleigh at 13.4 percent and Philadelphia at 12.8 percent.
Kelly said Nielsen//NetRatings makes the count by combining two research methods. First, they make some 3,000 to 4,000 calls across the nation every three months, getting a representative sample of how many people have Internet access.
Then, the joint venture makes its estimate of how many people are using the Internet in specific markets through a "panel" — some 65,000 computer users in markets across the nation who have agreed to install software which records their Internet use.
By combining the two, Kelly said, the company can estimate the growth in Internet use.
Nielsen//NetRatings is a joint venture between NetRatings, Nielsen Media Research and AC Nielsen.