As prices dropped over the past year, broadband use at
home has surpassed that of dial-up in the United States, reaching
53 percent of residential Web users in October, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.
For now, what people do online hasn't changed as much as its
frequency and duration, although some people are beginning to
make telephone calls on the Internet or use cheap webcams for
When Mark Suhre built his five-bedroom, three-story home in
Maryland near the Chesapeake Bay, Suhre made sure each room had
its own high-speed network jack. Wireless access points extended
the Internet's reach to the swimming pool.
Most evenings, the whole family is online at once: Suhre wrapping
up work as a computer network engineer; his wife, Terri, preparing
school lessons or ordering from an e-tailer; his teenage sons
Gary, Josh and Brandon playing online video games, instant messaging
with friends, maybe even researching homework. The Suhres' lives,
online and off, have been transformed by their broadband connection.
Surveys from the Pew Internet and American Life Project find
that 69 percent of broadband users go online on a typical day,
compared with 51 percent for dial-up. Broadband users who went
online averaged 107 minutes surfing the Web, checking e-mail and
otherwise engaged, 21 minutes longer than dial-up users.
Taking advantage of their always-on connection, they practice
"People are more able and willing to just walk up to the
Internet to get a quick snippet of what they need, send a quick
e-mail, read a quick news article, check a sports score,"
said Jim Bankoff, executive vice president for programming at
America Online Inc.
Not having to wait several minutes to log on to a dial-up account,
broadband user Jeannie Tatum will quickly check prices before
heading out to a store. The Spring, Texas, Web designer will visit
Blockbuster's site to see if a new release is out yet, noting
that with dial-up, "it would take less time to pick up the
phone and call."
Telephone books? Gathering dust on the shelf.
Atlases? What are they?
Communal behavior also is tempered by the broadband effect.
Family members arguing a point over dinner are more apt, if they
have broadband, to "look it up online rather than continue
to yell at each other," said Lee Rainie, Pew's director.
Or, in the absence of verbal interaction, families can have
heated discussions in Internet chat rooms — individual members
each sitting in separate rooms in front of computer screens.
That happens when broadband users take their Internet habit
a step further by setting up home networks. Suhre wired his home
so his network can one day accommodate Internet-enabled refrigerators
sites) Inc. had such networks in mind in designing features
for its popular digital video recorder. Already, users can schedule
recordings online — from the office, say. But unless they
have broadband, the updates can take up to a day to make.
TiVo is soon expected to launch a service that lets users move
recorded programs to laptops. In the future, TiVo spokeswoman
Kathryn Kelly said, users will be able to send programs to other
recorders they own, in a vacation home, for instance.
Microsoft Corp. recommends broadband for its PCs running Windows
sites) Media Center Edition, which lets users view photos
and movies on regular TVs or listen on a stereo system to music
stored on a hard drive.
The version out in 2003 makes it easy to buy programming for
download. The latest version, released in October, has an optional
"extender" for sending programs to other rooms through
the home network.
Suhre said his kids have grown to take broadband for granted
and were miserable when they had only dial-up for two weeks while
moving. Suhre got first dibs, then his wife and finally the children.
"You could see they would be hovering around, almost like
dinner time when they are hungry, trying tofigure out when she
would get off," Suhre said.
The online convenience changes offline behavior as well. Rainie
goes to the office late and leaves early, avoiding rush-hour traffic,
because he knows he can make up the hours at home.
Content creators, meanwhile, find the broadband audience now
big enough to make it worthwhile to produce resource-hungry features.
Amazon.com commissioned five short films to view for free at its
site this holiday season.
Americans are hardly pioneers, however, in embracing broadband.
The United States trailed 12 of the 15 top economies, including
Canada, in broadband penetration, according to a September report
from U.N. International Telecommunication Union analyzing 2003
South Korea (news
sites) topped the list at more than double the U.S. rate.
Broadband helped spur a social and political renaissance in South
Korea, where thousands of citizens contribute to an alternative
news site called OhmyNews, shaking the traditional media and political
In sixth-ranked Denmark, Internet-based telephones have become
popular as they allow customers to avoid per-minute local phone
charges, said John Strand, a telecommunications consultant in
By comparison, Americans are only starting to figure out what
they can do with broadband, said Maribel Lopez, a Forrester Research
analyst. And until they get it, households simply can't be sold
on such advanced services as Internet calling and telemedicine.
Broadband does have its share of headaches, of course.
Computers now stay connected 24 hours a day, extending the window
of exploitability by hackers.
And with only one or two companies in many markets controlling
the main pipelines into the home, consumer advocates fear they
might give preferential treatment to content from business partners,
or make competitors' content difficult to find or slow to load.
In the meantime, Internet usability expert Jakob Nielsen has
a word of caution for the broadband crowd:
Respect the dial-up population. It remains large. Think twice
before sending friends large photo files as attachments. Those
photos could sour their Internet experience.
On the other hand, come to think of it, those photos could encourage
them to finally spring for broadband.
Anick Jesdanun can be reached at netwriter(at)ap.org. Source
at Yahoo! News