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High-speed connections surge

A 70 percent surge last year in subscriber numbers shows just how much Americans love their high-speed Internet connections, according to government figures.

Americans' love of high-speed Internet connections is reflected in a 70 percent jump in subscriber numbers during the past year, according to government figures released Tuesday.

The Federal Communications Commission's biannual report said there were approximately 16.2 million broadband customers as of June 2002, up from 9.6 million a year earlier and 12.8 million six months before. Because the FCC generally counts a business or household as one customer, the actual number of Americans with broadband access at home or at work is far higher.

The remarkable growth rate is due almost entirely to the increasing popularity of cable modems and DSL (digital subscriber line) connections, which together account for about 90 percent of broadband links and the vast majority of the increase. The remainder of the high-speed market is shared by ISDN, fiber, satellite, or fixed wireless connections, which have enjoyed a rate of growth in the single digits.

Not all of those connections are bidirectional, meaning that the speed would be least 200KB per second for uploads and downloads. Approximately 10.4 million of 16.2 million customers fall into that category, according to the data gathered by the FCC based on its surveys of telecom companies.

California, the most populous state, leads in high-speed lines, with 2.6 million subscribers. Next is New York with 1.5 million customers, Florida with 1.1 million, and Texas with 1 million.

Cable modems are still the most popular, with 9.1 million subscribers and a 29 percent rate of increase from Dec. 2001 to June 2002. DSL is next, with 5.1 million subscribers and a 29 percent rate of increase during the same time.

The report suggests that broadband services are available to almost everyone who wants them, which could make it more difficult for Congress to pass a broadband-spending law when politicians return next month. "Our analysis indicates that 98 percent of the country's population lives in the 84 percent of zip codes where a provider reports having at least one high-speed service subscriber," the report says.

The FCC admits its report may be under-inclusive because it does not include connections that are faster than dial-up modems with a throughput under 200KB per second, and because there is no legal requirement that companies respond to its surveys.