The Network: Broadband Needs A Push

The Network: Broadband Needs A Push

Considering the riches to be gained, it’s surprising that so few industries are evangelizing broadband.

It’s scary when you realize that one of the Internet’s “next big things” depends on the Baby Bells, the cable companies, and Congress to push it forward. Let’s face it: When you think of legislators, telcos, and the cable industry–marketing prowess, entrepreneurial instincts, and speedy execution aren’t the first images to spring to mind. And yet that’s the trio leading the charge on broadband adoption now.

The consensus in the Internet industry is that once we reach a critical mass of broadband surfers, all sorts of wonderful things will happen. Online advertising will realize the promise of branding, Hollywood will create all sorts of new and exciting content, and advanced communications such as voice and video instant messaging will flourish.

So one would think that with so many other interested parties who would benefit from broadband, there would be more energy in the industry promoting, evangelizing, and pushing broadband adoption. Instead, we have Congress introducing bills for tax credits and other relief for technology companies to spur the rollout of broadband services. We have the Baby Bells and cable companies confusing the consumer about the difference between DSL and cable modems and taking flak about slow rollouts and spotty customer service. The broadband alternatives to DSL and cable modems are fixed wireless networks and two-way satellite broadband, but unfortunately, both are in their infancy or available in few cities.

Give the trio credit for trying, but we need more. Where are Madison Avenue and Hollywood in helping evangelize broadband? A few small broadband startups are trying, but they’re also distracted by financial pressures. America Online, which could be a real leader in this area and does know how to market services, is currently distracted by swallowing Time Warner and dealing with cable access issues.

Broadband users today account for 14.5 percent of the U.S. surfing population, so we’re still far from critical mass, but the growth is promising. Year-over-year, it’s an impressive 116 percent, and we’re now at 14.7 million at-home broadband users.
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Broadband users are still not reflective of the mainstream population–they are more likely to have higher incomes, for example. Consider that 73 percent of the broadband population has household income of more than $50,000, and then remember that median household income is about $39,000. Either broadband costs need to go down or consumers need to appreciate the value of higher speed and be willing to pay more than the $15 to $20 a month they currently spend for dial-up services.

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Nielsen//NetRatings data show that once users have broadband, they stay online longer, view more pages, and visit more sites than their dial-up counterparts. The always-on connection moves the Internet closer to being as much a part of consumers’ daily lives as the television and telephone.

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Entrepreneurs and the financial community will be squeamish about broadband, given some of the recent failures: Pseudo Networks, Quokka Sports Network, and NorthPoint Communications are sad casualties. But the fact that broadband has attracted sufficient attention from Congress, the Baby Bells, and the cable industry should be proof that, in the long term, we’re going to get there.

But let’s not leave it entirely to the telcos and cable companies. That will slow adoption unnecessarily–and I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for another Internet boom. I’ve now done my part. What are you doing to help push one of the “next big things”?

Posted by on May 4, 2001