On one side are middle-income and price-sensitive households, which tend to favor DSL service offered by phone companies. On the other are more affluent families, which gravitate toward higher-speed cable modem services.
According to a recent report published by Leichtman Research Group, about 21 percent of households earning an annual income of between $30,000 and $75,000 a year subscribe to DSL. About 18 percent of these households subscribe to cable. By contrast, 37 percent of all households with annual household incomes over $75,000 subscribe to cable broadband and 27 percent subscribe to DSL.
"Clearly price is much more important at this point in the game," said Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst for Leichtman Research Group. "Middle-income families making the jump from dial-up to broadband are much more price-sensitive, and clearly the phone companies' messaging on low-priced DSL has gotten through loud and clear."
A year-and-a-half ago, pricing of DSL and cable modem service was roughly the same. But over the past year, the phone companies have launched an aggressive assault by dropping prices. At the end of 2005, the average price of DSL service was about $32 per month, roughly $9 less than cable, according to research firm IDC.
AT&T has twiceand now offers its for the first year. Since AT&T's prices are promotional, after the first year, the price of the service jumps to the company's regular pricing model, which is $29.99 per month. Verizon created a , which includes 768Kbps downloads, for $14.95 per month.
Regardless of household income, the promise of lower prices has also convinced some cable subscribers to switch to DSL. Dan Spencer, 38, of Norristown, Pa., had been a Comcast broadband subscriber for over three years. But after he realized his family was paying over $100 per month for high-speed Internet access and TV service, he decided to abandon Comcast for EchoStar's satellite TV and Verizon's DSL service.
"My wife usually pays our bills," he said. "But one day, when I saw how much we were paying Comcast for our cable TV and broadband, I was shocked. It was outrageous."
Spencer said he now pays about $75 per month for TV and Internet access, and he estimates he is saving roughly $45 per month over what he was paying for the Comcast service.
The low cost of DSL has, helping DSL providers increase their total customer base by 39 percent in 2005, according to Forrester Research. Verizon alone signed up 613,000 new high-speed Internet subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2005, a record for the company. It continued the strong growth in 2006, having signed up 541,000 new subscribers in the first quarter.
But the phone companies' success hasn't meant the demise of cable, which in total saw broadband subscriptions grow 21 percent in 2005. In fact, cable companies have also set new records in recent quarters for the number of subscribers they've acquired.