MediaPostWith Latin America suffering less from the global recession than North America or Europe, Internet access rates in the region have gained steadily in recent years, according to new data from Nielsen.

The research firm conducted a study that examined how the increased affluence of consumers in Latin America has affected media penetration rates — focusing on four countries: Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico. Chile came out on top in home Internet access, with 41% penetration in 2009 (the most recent year for which data is available), up from 35% the prior year. Computer ownership in Chile was also the highest among the four countries — at 57%, up from 52% in 2008.

Brazil’s Internet rate of 31% was well below Chile, but that figure reflects a significant increase from just 18% in 2008. Computer ownership also jumped in 2009, nearly doubling to 51% from 26% year-over-year. Internet penetration in Colombia was up five points to 29%, and in Mexico, it rose three points to 24%. PC ownership in Colombia was just 13% — up from 9% — while in Mexico it was 32%, a percentage point down from 33% in 2008.

“Brazil’s economic growth is driving consumption across most sectors as consumers have more money to spend, so this rise is not so surprising,” said Roberto Vazquez Ferrero, managing director of the telecom practice at Nielsen Latin America, in a blog post Tuesday.

Across the four countries, nearly all homes (98%) had TVs. Colombia was easily the leader when it came to cable TV — 81% of households had subscriptions. Half (51%) of Chilean homes had cable TV access, while a third of Mexican homes and a quarter of Brazilian households did.

“The main barrier to cable penetration is the cost of service. I would expect cable penetration to rise in Brazil in the near term,” said Vasquez. He added that in Mexico, many cable operators compete, offering differing services. “As they package them in ways that combine TV and Internet, such as the double- and triple-play packages, we could see greater penetration as competition leads to lower prices,” he said.

A separate study released in October by Razorfish identified a rising digital population among the so-called “Classe C” segment of society across Latin America. In this lower-middle class group, digital trumps television as the main media platform and women are the chief household decision makers.

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