As the national move to get everyone connected to high-speed broadband continues, people who can't afford the average monthly fee of $40 for such service may want to consider stepping back in time with dial-up Internet service.
The clicks and long buzzes of telephone connections being made over the Internet may remind you of simpler times, when cassette tapes were used to listen to music instead of an iPod, but they also mean much lower prices and can save hundreds of dollars. If retro is in, then dial-up Internet is waaaaay in.
It's slow, but isn't slow living making a comeback?
NetZero sells a month of unlimited dial-up service for $9.95, a deal compared with the average $40 per month that the average broadband customer pays in America for Internet service. A recent Federal Communications Commission study found that affordability is one of the main reasons why almost a third of Americans -- 93 million people -- don't have broadband service at home. About 36% said the monthly fee for broadband is too expensive, they can't afford a computer or the installation fee is too high.
The cost is a major barrier for low-income families, with 40% who live in households with income of $20,000 per year or less having broadband at home, while 91% of people living in households where income is more than $75,000 per year have broadband.
The FCC is next set to meet April 21 on the National Broadband Plan. Since rural areas are most likely not to have broadband service, those areas are key to the agency's initiative. Until then, rural residents with dial-up Internet don't have to be as far behind their city brethren. "Dialup acceleration" costs $6 to $10 more per month to speed up their dial-up Internet.
Another option is to subscribe to high-speed DSL and cable service for an Internet connection only without local phone service, but such "naked" services are usually higher than combining them with TV or phone service.
Until the FCC nears its goal of helping 100 million U.S. homes get affordable access to fast broadband service, dial-up is the way to go to save money. But if you're looking for speed and need anything more than e-mail and downloading small files, then dial-up will be a quick lesson in frustration.
Roland Hinds, 43, of Santa Clarita, Calif., originally got AOL's dial-up service so he could save money. He saved plenty, now at $11.95 per month compared with as much as $12.95 per month for broadband. But after taking up to 45 minutes to download pdf and doc files, sometimes twice because they'd get stuck, Hinds plans to switch back to faster Internet service for his work as an author and host of a relationship radio show on the Internet.
"The purpose of using the dial-up modem plan is to save money, however I believe that I waste a lot of time waiting for files to download, upload, and heavy graphic Web sites to come up," Hinds wrote in an e-mail to WalletPop.
Beverly Solomon, who lives on a ranch 70 miles outside of Austin, Tex., said in an e-mail to WalletPop that she happily has EarthLink dial-up for $21.95 a month, and that she and many of her friends in the area have dial-up service because everything else is either too expensive or unreliable.
Reliable -- that's something you don't expect to hear to describe dial-up Internet service.
Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.
If you can't afford broadband, go back to dial-up Internet