With the rapid growth of broadband internet service it can often seem puzzling as to why users still use dial-up. Many a web designer has wondered why their designs should still accommodate slower speeds, and if that describes you, read on.
First while dial-up internet access is becoming increasingly less relevant, it is still heavily used by many internet users. According to a 2010 report by the ITU (the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies) the United States has close to 240 million internet users of which more than 85 million have broadband access (34 percent). That means that 155 million users don’t have broadband access…at least according to one study.
A major reason why there are so many dial-up users is the cost of purchasing broadband especially during tough economic times. For some internet users, a dial-up connection may be all that they can afford.
Also, dial-up service is easier to setup and requires less equipment. All you need for dial-up is a land-line telephone and a basic modem (which many computers come with). Someone looking to get broadband must install cable or DSL while adding additional equipment to their home.
Surprisingly, it’s also the case that many users don’t feel as if they need high-speed internet access. By performing their more demanding tasks at work, or from public WiFi access points, their needs may be extremely modest. For these users simply wishing to check email, instant message and do a bit of basic web surfing, a dial-up connection is more than sufficient, particularly if they are careful to block huge advertisements and other demanding content.
While access to high-speed Internet is generally not an issue in urban and suburban areas, the story is much different in rural areas. Fewer providers service less populated areas, leading to lower competition and poorer service. Less available infrastructure also reduces choice in rural areas, and satellite internet is very expensive and sometimes unreliable. However, rural phone connectivity is generally easy to find. As such, anyone wishing to use the internet far away from major population centers may have no cost-effective or quality choice other than to access the internet via dial-up.
Finally, some current internet users may not be aware of the advantages of broadband access. For these surfers, the internet may be little more than an advanced newspaper where they follow stories, check the weather and view the latest sports scores. For them broadband is a luxury item not a monthly necessity.
Whether by choice or due to circumstance, dial-up users should not automatically be ignored when designing websites. While some activities may be prohibited to them, and websites should certainly be designed to take advantage of broadband speeds, most have some information or component that can successfully be delivered over dial-up internet.