Web users in Asia Pacific region will outnumber those in the US within the next couple of years, according to a study released yesterday by research group Gartner Dataquest.

By 2003, forecasts the report, 183.3 million people will have internet access in Asia Pacific (including Japan), up from the 78m recorded at the end of last year. Such rapid growth will push the region ahead of the US (predicted to have 162.8m in 2003) and western Europe (162.2m).

Gartner attributed the explosion of web use in Asia Pacific to declining access costs and a fast-developing infrastructure. The researcher estimates that most subscribers in the region now pay under $10 monthly for unlimited surfing, with the cost in China set to fall below $5 by the end of the year.

In addition, governments in the area are trying to increase the number of connection points beyond large cities, so that people in less urban areas do not incur long-distance charges to get online.

“In Thailand at the moment, if you want to connect from somewhere in the country, you have to dial a number in Bangkok,” explained Andrew Chetham, a senior analyst at Gartner. “But the government is putting access points in towns so that users can simply make a local call. The same is happening in the Philippines.”

News source: Wall Street Journal