The percentage of small businesses - with fewer than 100 employees - accessing the Internet exceeded 52% in 1999, according to the 1999 U.S. Small Business Survey released by International Data Corp. That number is expected to climb to more than 70% by 2003.

Not only are these businesses accessing information on the World Wide Web, many are perceiving the benefit of promoting themselves via the Internet. In 1999, 2.1 million U.S. small businesses had a home page or Web site; 2000 will see a site increase of 30% to 2.7 million.

"Although more small businesses are experimenting with Web promotion of their products and services, the market is far from saturated and there is still plenty of room to grow," said Raymond Boggs, IDC's vice president/small business research. "Almost 13% of U.S. small businesses have yet to invest in a PC."

Other findings include:

  • The growth in the number of new small businesses online is evident in all company size categories;

  • The majority of small businesses still access the World Wide Web through a single PC shared by all users; and

  • Small businesses that use the Internet tend to be more advanced users of computer technology.

The report notes that electronic commerce presents the most significant growth opportunity for a wide range of small businesses. The number of these companies selling goods and services online will expand from 850,000 at the end of 1999 to 2.9 million in 2003.

"The Internet has tremendous reach and small businesses are beginning to realize the potential of this channel," Boggs said. "By 2003, nearly half of online small businesses will be selling over the Internet."