Beginning in the late 1990s, people believed that high-speed broadband Internet access would burst onto the scene and, with it, the Internet would become a streaming, lively, and marvel-filled solution to everyone's online problems. Or close to that. Yet here we are in 2001, and widespread use of broadband Internet is nearly as elusive as the banned Fiorentina steaks of Tuscany.
Why is the uptake of broadband Internet so... underdone?
The first reason, broadly stated, is all of "us," and how "we" typically use the Internet. A second factor is the broadband companies themselves. A third reason is a lack of interesting broadband applications: Why rush for broadband service when there isn't much to be excited about once you have it?
We the people...
If you're like most Internet users, you don't have broadband Internet access at your home. And why not? Most people don't feel a need for it. A majority of people use the Internet to read and send email; to access text-based information; to communicate via chat, discussion boards, and instant messages; and to shop. These activities do not require a high-speed connection. A 56K modem does the trick.
Broadband supporters believe that streaming video will be enough to make most people desire broadband access. However, until downloading and watching videos online becomes easier than turning on the television, I don't believe most people will do it. People want simplicity. What is simpler than TV?
Online, nothing is simpler than email and instant messages. As long as these remain the Internet's most used features, the public won't be anxious to pay for broadband access. There isn't a need.
Selling high-speed access to the masses requires a strong, enduring marketing pitch, and that costs money. Many smaller access companies can't afford to burn money on advertising, while the larger companies can bide their time as high-speed online applications evolve. Once evolved, applications alone could go far to entice people to buy broadband. So, companies are waiting.
Another factor is that broadband cable owners have had issues to address regarding competitors' access, while the rollout of cable Internet has been slower than expected. The rollout of digital subscriber line (DSL) has been systematic, i.e., slow. Many people still lack service options.
More bark than bite
So far, the overused phrase "If you build it, they will come" is not proving true. Fast networks crisscross much of the country, but without mass-market applications, most people don't pay to hook in.
Broadband is still an infant used by a minority of Internet customers, even though it was supposed to burst onto the scene beginning in 1998, and then 1999, and then 2000. AOL Time Warner (NYSE: AOL) is probably the only company that can make broadband "burst" onto the consumer scene now -- not Earthlink (Nasdaq: ELNK), Excite@Home (Nasdaq: ATHM), or Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT).
To make broadband popular, AOL needs to give customers a reason to use it other than just faster speeds. Today's news of a new AOL music service is a step forward, but a small step. The Internet industry needs to provide us with several new "killer applications" that will interest consumers nationwide in broadband Internet. So far, it hasn't come close.
What do you think?
Read this brief post, take our poll, and then share your thoughts. Do you have broadband access and love it, as many users do -- and if so, what makes you love it? Or, like a majority, are you still dialing into the Internet, and is that good enough for you?
If only a broadband "pipe" could physically transport a person around the globe in seconds -- just click on the "Italy" button, and you're standing in Rome. Of the companies mentioned, Jeff Fischer owns shares in AOL Time Warner. The Fool has a full disclosure policy.