Broadband has steamed ahead of dial-up as the most popular way of going online, new figures show.

The number of British households with internet access rose by 600,000 to 13.9 million over the last year.

That means 57 per cent of households can go online, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Nearly three-quarters (72.6 per cent) of them connect to the internet via broad-band up from 54.4 per cent last year and 18 per cent in 2003.

The ONS data comes from a survey of internet service providers.

Figures for Northern Ireland were provided for the first time this year.

They bring the number of UK households with internet access to 14.3 million.

The annual ONS Internet Connectivity report started in 2001.

This year's report says: "The market share of broadband connections has been increasing ever since the index began, reflecting its growing popularity, affordability and widespread availability."

Dial-up accounts for the remaining 27.4 per cent of internet connections, the ONS said.

The volume of households in Britain with internet access is up from 55 per cent last year and 51 per cent in 2004.

It rises to 66 per cent in the South-east, while Scotland has the lowest percentage of households with internet access at 48 per cent.

The ONS said all methods of going online - such as via PCs, laptops, televisions and mobile phones - were included in the headline figure.

Phone company T-Mobile criticised the report for not including internet access via mobile phones as a separate category. n The Interactive Media in Retail Group released its quarterly top 50 UK eretailers list.

Amazon UK retains the number one spot, followed in the top five by Argos,, Dell, and