Raleigh and the research triangle Area has the fastest growing online population in the United States, according to new statistics from Nielsen/NetRatings.

The RTP area’s unique online audience grew to 924,000 in January from 715,000 a year earlier, a growth rate of 29 percent, Nielsen/NetRatings said.

While several other metropolitan areas have more users, none grew more than 20 percent in 2002.

The fastest growing income group is those households reporting between $75,000 and $99,999 a year which skyrocketed 72 percent, Nielsen/NetRatings added.

“Raleigh has experienced major growth in high income households that have Internet access over the past year,” said Greg Bloom, senior Internet analyst at Nielsen/NetRatings. “This will make it a prime regional target for marketers looking to push big ticket items like luxury cars and appliances.”

Unfortunately, and perfects reflecting the downturn in the economy, the number of households with income under $25,000 reported a 26 percent drop in Internet access.

The $25,000-$49,999 income group increased its use of the Internet by 49 percent. The $50,000-$74,999 and $150,000 up group each increased 17 percent. The $100,000-$149,999 group increased 8 percent.

Following the Raleigh metro area in terms of growth increase were: Nashville, 19%; Sacramento, 19%; Hartford, 17%; Washington DC, 16%; Houston, 16%; Minneapolis, 15%; Cincinnati, 12%; San Diego, 11%; Indianapolis, 11%.

Nielsen/NetRatings: www.nielsen-netratings.com