A half-billion people worldwide have Internet access at home, with North America showing the greatest number of Net surfers but the slowest growth rate of all, Nielsen//NetRatings reported today.

Twenty-four million people joined the world Internet community during the fourth quarter of 2001, boosting the global count by 5 percent to 498 million, according to NetRatings’ quarterly report on Net access and penetration. The gains are nearly double the 15 million added in the third quarter.