GENEVA (AP) _ South Korea holds a large lead over the rest of the world in the percentage of people who have high-speed Internet connections, the U.N. communications agency said Tuesday.
Between 60 and 70 percent of all households in South Korea have a broadband connection, and cybercafes where students play online games are ``almost on every corner,'' said Taylor Reynolds, one of the authors of a report by the International Telecommunication Union.
``Broadband is just an essential part of everyday life. They use it for e-mail, they use it for chat, for music, all sorts of things,'' Reynolds said.
The ITU's 196-page report found 63 million broadband subscribers _ mainly through digital subscriber lines (DSL) or cable TV connections _ worldwide at the start of 2003.
The report also found more mobile phone users _ 1.16 billion _ than people with fixed-line phones, 1.13 billion. The ITU first estimated that wireless phones had begun outnumbering landlines in May 2002.
More than 10 million of the world's high-speed Internet users are in South Korea alone, a rate of 21.3 broadband subscribers per 100 inhabitants. Hong Kong was in second place with 14.9 percent and Canada was third at 11.2 percent.
The United States was in 11th place in the per-capita broadband rankings at 6.9 percent, though it had the highest overall total with 19.9 million subscribers.
Japan was in 10th place, with 7.1 percent broadband use. But ITU experts expect Japan to move up because it is now offering the world's fastest speeds and lowest prices. Broadband service that is about 520 times faster than a dial-up modem is available in Japan for about $24.19 a month.
At that speed, Japanese broadband customers can download an entire movie over the Internet in 20 minutes. South Korea is almost as fast _ 26 minutes. Somebody trying to download the same movie over a standard dial-up modem would need 7 1/2 days.
Reynolds said a key reason why Japan and South Korea are so far ahead is because of heavy competition among broadband providers. The Japanese and South Korean governments have taken steps to encourage the use of broadband, such as requiring telephone companies to let competitors use existing lines at low cost.
Overall, monthly subscriptions are generally between $30 and $50, but run as high as $165.89 in Finland, the report said. The average U.S. cost was $53.