Nov. 1, 2005--Americans are becoming more and more connected, with 62% of households now owning a computer and 55% using the Internet, according to a new U.S. Census Bureau report.

The statistics, released Oct. 27 and based on an October 2003 population survey, show that Internet use has jumped threefold since 1997 -- and that's been a boon for businesses. While e-mail is still the most common reason cited among users, at 88%, getting information on products or services was second, at 78%. Of that group, 54% eventually purchased goods or services online.

Small businesses have taken notice, as their own Internet use continues to outpace the general population. A December 2004 National Federation of Independent Business poll showed that 82% of entrepreneurs used the Internet for their businesses. Additionally, Department of Labor statistics from May 2004 stated that 63% of entrepreneurs with a home-based business use the Internet or e-mail.

The Web has helped level the playing field for many small businesses, helping them attract customers once out of their reach with company websites, online marketing, and other tactics. "Just like computer usage, the trend [of having a Web site] is moving upward," said William Dennis, NFIB's senior research fellow. "Small businesses are not using [the Web] any different than larger firms do. They use it for advertising, for communication, for sales, for education -- for all the same things, but not every small business does everything."