More Canadians are connecting to the internet through faster broadband connections, leading to an increase in activities such as downloading music or movies, according to a new study from Statistics Canada.

Almost nine in 10 (88 per cent)  Canadians aged 16 and older who accessed the internet from home in 2007 did it on a high-speed broadband connection instead of a dial-up connection, up from 80 per cent in 2005, the last year the study was conducted.

The result had little impact on mainstay activities such as checking e-mail and surfing the web, but had a more profound impact on activities such as media downloading.

One in five respondents said they had downloaded or watched TV or movies over the internet, an increase from 12 per cent in 2005. The percentage of Canadians who download music — either paid or for free — also increased from 37 per cent to 45 per cent in the two-year span.

Part of the increase can be attributed to a change in methodology, as Statistics Canada for the first time included 16- and 17-year-olds in the study, a demographic more likely to download media than older groups.

The inclusion of younger participants in the study also helped account for the growth in the use of instant messenger services: half of respondents said they had used those services to chat with their friends, up from 38 per cent in 2005.

In general, almost three-quarters of Canadians (73 per cent), or 19.2 million Canadians aged 16 and older, went online for personal reasons in 2007, an increase from 68 per cent in 2005.

But the agency said the survey showed that the digital divide, or gap in the rate of internet use, still exists, with older Canadians, those with lower income and education levels and those living in rural areas less likely to have used the internet.

The urban-rural divide was particularly pronounced when considering access to high-speed broadband internet. Over nine in 10 urban home users reported using a high-speed connection, compared with just over seven in 10 home users in rural areas.

Access was an issue, with more than one-half of rural and small-town residents using a slower service saying that a high-speed telephone or cable service was not available in their area.