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In a Fast-Moving Web World........


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April 19, 2004

In a Fast-Moving Web World, Some Prefer the Dial-Up Lane


SAN FRANCISCO, April 18 — High-speed Internet access is being adopted by millions of Americans each year, growing as quickly as any modern technology. So what makes Dana Jenkins think she can resist?

In fact, she is part of another big group, the tens of millions of Americans seemingly immune to the lure of more speed and satisfied with dial-up services. A majority of Americans who surf the Internet still do so by dialing in on regular telephone lines, despite the rapidly narrowing price gap between high-speed and dial-up connections.

People like Ms. Jenkins are neither Luddites nor laggards, but consumers content to pay for a service that is less than optimal, and at times even frustratingly slow, because they say greater speed is not worth the trouble of starting over with a new telecommunications provider and getting a new e-mail address, even if the added cost is small.

"I resent it," said Ms. Jenkins, 61, an avid Internet user in Marietta, Ga., of the mild pressure she feels to get a high-speed connection. She pays $21.95 a month to dial into the Net — mostly to do research for the doctorate in communications that she is working toward — and said paying even $10 more for a faster connection would feel wasteful.

"I don't do gaming. I don't download a lot of graphics," she said. "For the money I would spend, I don't need it."

Those are words that can give high-technology industry executives chills. They have proclaimed the spread of high-speed, or broadband, connections to be integral to the industry's growth, essential to American competitiveness and indispensable to consumers. Even President Bush jumped into the fray last month, calling for affordable, universal high-speed access by 2007.

Up to now, the market for high-speed connections has been dominated by the young, educated, affluent and tech-savvy. In some circles, it is considered not just functional, but an essential bit of modernity, like knowing what happened on "The Sopranos" or that Diesel refers to jeans, not fuel. Some users of dial-up sheepishly acknowledge that they avoid admitting their low network speeds when they are with their better-connected friends.

The situation is likely to change as more users move to broadband. In 2003, 23 million households had high-speed access, up from 16 million the year before, according to the Yankee Group, a research firm. In 2003, 51 million American households connected to the Internet through a dial-up connection, down from 55 million a year before, the firm reported.

A typical dial-up connection delivers information at 56 kilobits a second; broadband connections are 5 to 25 times faster.

In practical terms, the performance depends largely on what task a person is doing. E-mail, for example, can take about the same amount of time to download, because it is a small amount of data. But high-speed connections can make a huge difference with the transfer of graphics, elaborate Web pages or video.

For those uses, the denizens of the dial-up world have learned to wait.

"I bring a newspaper and sit and read," said Alex Pope of Berkeley, Calif., explaining how he passes time waiting to download data, like the music programs for upcoming symphonies, on dial-up.

Mr. Pope, 74, a retired lawyer, does not have the option millions of dial-up users have: broadband connections at work that allow them to surf the Internet quickly when they need to. If office connections are counted, 55 percent of Americans have high-speed access, according to a study released on Sunday by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, a nonprofit research group.

Danielle Kolko, 31, of Louisville, Colo., who works in the human resources department at a marketing company, is one who does high-speed surfing at the office. But some people in her social circle still give her grief about her slow-speed home life.

"I have friends who are high-tech computer engineers who are horrified by the fact I have dial-up," Ms. Kolko said. "I just tell them I'm more patient than they are."

While many dial-up users cite cost as one reason to stick with their existing service, the price of high-speed service is becoming more affordable.

Dial-up service costs can range from $10 a month from discount companies to $21.95 a month for services from big operators like EarthLink and MSN. Cable modem service — one of the two principal forms of high-speed access — costs $40 to $45 a month, according to the Yankee Group. Telephone digital subscriber line service, the other principal form, can cost $35 a month, but the price typically drops to $30 a month if users also buy long-distance and local phone service from the same phone company.

Some dial-up services, like Juno and America Online, are now selling what they call accelerated dial-up services. These services — which can cost several dollars more than regular dial-up — use a new compression technology to load some Web pages 40 percent faster, though some content takes just as long to download, the Yankee Group said.

Patrick Mahoney, an analyst with the Yankee Group, said some dial-up users do not realize how much the price difference has narrowed. Many users may not know that a digital subscriber line can be "as little as $8 more per month than some dial-up services," Mr. Mahoney said.

The industry already has a label for people who have not yet moved into the fast lane: prime prospects. Verizon Communications, the nation's largest telephone company, has begun a campaign to convince consumers that high-speed access is affordable and easy to set up.

"There's a mind-set that broadband is hard to install and complex," said John Wimsatt, vice president of broadband marketing for Verizon. Noting that some consumers will always be wary of new technology, he said, "Some people still have their VCR's flashing 12 o'clock."

Verizon's marketing is not convincing everybody. In a survey taken in February, the Pew project found that 60 percent of dial-up users said they were not interested in switching to broadband, roughly the same result as in a February 2003 survey. According to the survey, 47 percent of men wanted to switch, compared with 34 percent of women, a notable gender difference.

The Yankee Group has reported a number of differences between dial-up and broadband users: 47 percent of young unmarried people have broadband, compared with 30 percent of young married couples. It found that broadband has the highest penetration among upper-middle-class households, suggesting that price remains a factor in decisions to get high-speed connections.

There are other factors, too, for loyal dial-up users. Gena Haskett, 46, a computer skills tutor in Glendale, Calif., and a frequent Internet user, worries that a high-speed connection would make her computer more susceptible to viruses and attacks by hackers.

Cameron Brown, 49, of Oakland, Calif., said her reasons for sticking with dial-up were based on "fear, inertia and self-governance." Ms. Brown, a former journalist, said that faster speeds would probably entice her to spend even more time in front of the computer. Besides, she said, she does not want to deal with "another hassle" in subscribing to a new service.

Then again, she is feeling a bit behind. As it is now, she says, she hits the download button, goes to do something else — get dinner, maybe — and comes back later.

It would be nice, she acknowledged, to be able to download information "without having to wait 20 minutes."

"I need to bite the bullet and do it," Ms. Brown said.


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This page took a whole 30 seconds from click to load..... dial up sucks.

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We have both dial-up and cable on our computers here at the house...it's tough to step down to the dial-up after using the fast connection.

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We run the crap out of our lan here at home. Dial-up is not an option.

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Nice to have the choice... I know which one I'd have given the chance, but I can understand how dial up is sufficient for a lot of light internet users. It does tie up the phone line though... that can be a blessing or a curse dpending on who is trying to get through. I also know people with high speed connections who really dont use or need the bandwidth but have it just because they can. :reallymad:

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I have cable broadband right now and am loving every minute of it.

From mid 1998 through the end of 2003, I was on a very slow dial-up (is there any other kind? ;) ) My phone lines are so old in my house, that my max connecton speed was roughly 1/2 of 56k, or 26.4k.

Yep, that meant I got to tie up the one phone line in my house to download at a max of 2.9 to 3.1 kbps. Let me tell you, downloading stuff seemed to take forever! I always downloaded pieces of large files at night while I slept. It would take me about 5 to 6 days of downloading to get one 650mb ISO CD image.

I developed a lot of patience over that span of years, but I always desired more. I got tastes of broadband because my high school and colleges had T1 hi-speed internet lines. One I got the first taste, I knew that I needed broadband.

Now that I have it, am very satisfied with 3000/256 speeds which are rumored to be being raised by Comcast in the future.

Just the "always on" part is great, though I do miss tying up the phone line every now and then.

Sales calls can be so annoying :rolleyes:

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