NOP believes that much of the rising popularity of the net can be traced back to the arrival of free internet services, especially Dixons' Freeserve. According to NOP, Freeserve accounts for around one in five users.
We are also using the net more often than before. Some 73 per cent of respondents to the NOP research said they had used the net in the previous four weeks - up from 60 per cent in 1997.
Personal finance sites were among the main draws: 1.3 million people used the net for financial information, and 500,000 subscribed to an online banking service. This contrasts with 1.9 million researching or arranging travel or reading online newspapers.