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Survey: Broadband goes mainstream

According to a landmark survey, broadband usage reached the critical 50 percent benchmark in January, tipping the balance between broadband and narrowband.

People who tap the Internet from high-speed connections spent more time online in January than people with traditional phone lines--tipping the balance between broadband and narrowband use for the first time, according to a landmark survey.

Nielsen/NetRatings reported Tuesday that broadband usage reached the critical 50 percent benchmark in January, when people with high-speed connections accounted for 51 percent of the 2.3 billion hours that Americans spent online throughout the month. By comparison, the survey found that broadband users spent 727 million hours online in January 2001, accounting for 38 percent of the total time spent online in the same month last year.

"Broadband usage has hit mainstream," said Jarvis Mak, senior Internet media analyst at New York-based Nielsen/NetRatings.

Broadband generally refers to any means of connecting to the Internet other than conventional phone lines, including cable modems, digital subscriber lines (DSL) and the super-fast T1, T2 and T3 lines common in corporate America. Total time spent online by broadband surfers skyrocketed 64 percent year over year to 1.19 billion hours, while time spent online by narrowband surfers decreased 3 percent from 1.18 billion hours to 1.14 billion.

Despite hitting the 50 percent benchmark, broadband is still struggling on several fronts. Many subscribers are cancelling broadband accounts because of the sour economy, and consumers are fretting about a spate of bankruptcies in the broadband sector and rampant service outages. Excite@Home, once the leading broadband provider in the United States and Canada, ceased operations Feb. 18 after three years rife with cultural and financial woes.

Consumers have also expressed concerns about the rising cost of broadband. A study by La Jolla, Calif.-based ARS showed that cable broadband Internet prices rose 12 percent throughout 2001, from an average of $39.40 per month in January to $44.22 per month in December. Consumer DSL (digital subscriber line) prices rose 10 percent during the same time frame, from $47.18 in January to $51.67 in December.

But consumers are apparently willing to pay the price. Nearly 21.9 million Americans accessed the Internet via home broadband connections in January, skyrocketing 67 percent and accounting for 21 percent of the population with home Internet access.

During the same time period, the workplace broadband population jumped 42 percent to 25.5 million, compared to 18 million the year prior. Roughly 63 percent of people with Internet connections at work have high-speed connections.

"Broadband surfers spend as much time online as narrowband surfers and also comprise a growing proportion of the overall online population. Increasingly, online business models will be built and marketed with the broadband surfer in mind," Mak said. "The growth and development of broadband will create a more interactive and robust online experience, impacting e-commerce, streaming media and overall Internet content."