Tech Trends: Prices drop as broadband rivals take aim
Remember the aggressive price wars between dial-up Internet providers in the 1990s?
Perhaps it was inevitable, but those wars have finally begun in earnest between high-speed Internet providers. Cable companies and phone providers, competing for broadband customers, are slashing monthly fees and increasing access speeds. A fast connection to the Web has never been so cheap.
SBC Communications threw the first punch in June when it offered its digital subscriber line (DSL) Internet service to residential customers for as low as $14.95 per month. Verizon followed suit, lowering its introductory rates in some markets to $19.95 per month from as high as $49.95. And Comcast, which offers broadband services over its cable lines, introduced a series of low introductory rates in competitive markets. Last week, it announced plans to roll out faster access speeds to its existing subscribers in most of its markets by the end of the summer. Some cable providers are throwing in freebies such as HBO and Showtime to customers who switch.
There is no doubt that broadband access is well on its way to ubiquity.
The Federal Communications Commission reported last month that high-speed access grew by 34 percent in 2004 to 37.9 million lines. Connectivity trouble in rural areas is rarely an issue anymore. The FCC reports that at the end of 2004, 99 percent of the U.S. population lived in areas covered by at least one high-speed Internet service provider.
The biggest hurdle for customers wanting to take advantage of lower rates, of course, is that switching Internet providers is not as easy as simply making a phone call. Installing a cable modem or a DSL line still requires a visit from the provider, and a service initiation fee is often charged. Before switching services, check out the reliability of the service you are considering in your local area in the forums on www.broadbandreports.com, where subscribers rate the performance of their broadband connections.