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19 January 2005

Jeffrey Cole on the impact of Broadband access

This is an excerpt of Jeffrey Cole's presentation at the iMedia Summit in December 2004, entitled New Internet trends: changing media use, declining credibility and the rise of broadband. Jeffrey Cole describes the transformation in Internet use brought about when an always-on broadband connection becomes available at home.

Jeffrey Cole, now Director of the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg School for Communication, is the founder of the World Internet Project: a longitudinal study, initiated four years ago, of the way Internet use is transforming the way we live in 20 countries. In the U.S., the project surveys a representative sample of 2,000 people every year to follow the evolution of their technological equipment, their habits, the activities they carry out online, their communication patterns and their media usage.

First trend we're going to look at is something that you can't say any more simply than this: Broadband changes evrything. First just a statistic about broadband - right now we're on the verge of the majority of homes becoming broadband homes. Last year about 46% of homes connected through broadband. Right about nowx we're crossing the line that the majority of homes connect through broadband.

I actually believe there's a bigger gap between dial-up use and broadband use that there is between non-use and dial-up use. That's how significant I think broadband is. Fascinatingly to us, four years ago when we started talking to consumers, we found that 40% of those who ordered broadband at home were not aware they were getting an always-on or a direct connection. They thought they were just getting a really fast dial-up: You connected the old way and then when you connected it just was really fast. And while they got used to the speed, they bought it for the speed, the speed was addictive and they got used to it immediately. But it was always on, so the direct connection changed their relationship to the Internet far more significantly than the speed did.

We find dial-up to be this disruptive technology. Well, broadband is a very integrative technology. And what I mean by that, when we say that dial-up is disruptive, the average dial-up user is on one, two to three times a day, with exceptions, for 20 to 30 minutes at a time. When they dial-up they usually go into some other part of the house, towards the back, into a den, into a bedroom, into an office. Of course there are exceptions. And generally, dial-up time is time spent away from the family, although they can be around them, and time spent away from television, although the television can be on if people do multitask from the beginning.

Dial-up users view dialing-up as a big deal. They frequently write down on the back of an envelope or a Post-It Note the things they want to do when they log-on. And if they log-off forgetting to do those things, they get irritated at themselves. Even though the act of dialing-up only takes about 30 seconds, they view it as a big deal, or as we in the scientific community call it, a "BFD".

On the other hand, broadband is a really integrative technology. The average broadband user at home is on 20, 30, 40 times a day, two to three minutes at a time, with lots of exceptions. And, when they go online, it doesn't displace other activities such as family conversation or television viewing. It occurs in between those activities. It fits into the rythms of the day. It isn't as likely to displace anything because they're only on for two minutes at a time, not 20 or 30 minutes of dial-up. It doesn't displace family conversation. Conversation occurs around the Internet time on broadband. 


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Yes, I can completely agree. Some 7-8 years ago when "I" had dial-up, "I" would be the only person who ever used the internet. The internet at that time was something I did around other activities and usually late at night as to avoid other traffic.
Now, my entire family has broadband. What was that recipe, again? Who sang that song? Where is the Indonesian island where pygmy humans where found? Quick, to the laptop, and in seconds our information has arrived.
The digital age has moved from my office to the livingroom and the front yard. I think I would rather have no internet than dial-up again.

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