Broadband takes the lead to the high-speed world

Increasing Web use foreshadows a battle between cable-modem and DSL providers.

Now that the Web has penetrated a good portion of the population, consumers have begun to salivate for high-speed, or broadband, access. In fact, if you have ever surfed using high-speed access, going back to a 56K modem is downright depressing.

It follows that be in the ISP business today is a potential goldmine -- not only do these Web service providers get to give us new applications and capabilities with high-speed access, but they also have a very ready-and-waiting market out there. Not a bad situation to be in.

From a network connection standpoint, this situation intensifies the battle between DSL and cable access. Rather than get into a technical discussion on the high-speed options, it's more important to question what preference real consumer prospects have. Based on the latest data from ZDNet's sister publication InfoBeads/ZD InternetTrak, the results show a very clear and real preference for cable access.

This preference has some very interesting implications in the short term. One of the first is whether or not the vendors offering DSL will become more aggressive in signing up residential customers in the short term before the cable access offerings are omnipresent. It's been surprising that there hasn't been more targeted residential marketing to higher income, family households where DSL would have a strong chance of success. Yet, there has been little activity here.

There are a couple of issues this data brings to mind. First is the ever-present question of what will happen to AOL. Clearly, if cable access does dominate and AOL is unable to get on the service offering from the cable companies, it is at grave risk of losing at least some of its 18 million customers. But AOL is not alone. Lots of smaller local ISPs could see a real impact on their business.

Second, what happens to all those customers that got their so-called "free" PCs with a 3 year agreement with a dial-up ISP and now have the chance to get broadband access?

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