Once the Internet connection is always on, life will never be the same

Several years ago, I moved back to Windsor, Nova Scotia, so my children could spend time growing up with aunts, uncles, and grandmothers. But I also wanted to continue to working for the Monitor.

This would prove difficult, I knew, but not impossible, because technology would help. Windsor (population 3,500) had high-speed, or broadband, Internet access – faster than anything I could get in Boston at the time.

With an always-on connection, you use the Internet constantly. It becomes weather channel, news source, recipe guide, and family photo album among other uses.

The chance that you'll plop down in front of the computer at night, rather than in front of the TV, is much greater when you have high-speed access. My life and my family's life have never been the same. Once you have broadband access, you would rather walk across hot coals in bare feet than give it up.

I'm not the only one who sees it this way.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project has released a report, "The Broadband Difference," on how broadband Internet access changes online and offline life. Based on a January survey of 507 people, the report found that once people have broadband, they treat the Internet as a "go to" instrument for a "wide range of information and communication tools." Broadband users differ sharply from dial-up users in three ways:

• They create, and or manipulate, content on the Web – 59 percent have created their own websites or shared files with others.

• They do more online than dial-up users, and they are online more. On an average day, 82 percent of the people with broadband access will be online, while 58 percent of dial-up users will go online. Ninety percent of broadband users say using the Internet improves their ability to learn new things, 65 percent can better pursue hobbies, and 55 percent say it has improved their ability to do their jobs.

• What they do online, they do more often – in fact, almost twice as often as dial-up users. The Broadband "elite" – those who do 10 or more activities a day online – are developing their own lifestyle: They work at home more often, watch much less TV, spend less time shopping in stores, and read fewer newspapers, since they find most of their news online.

Here's the key. It's not just the speed of the connection that's important, it's that it's always on. Not having to click "connect" and spend a minute or two listening to your modem "shake hands" with the modem at the other end, makes a world of difference. When you can just sit down and start surfing immediately, the technology of the computer tends to disappear, and you're just online doing stuff.

Currently, about 12 percent of Americans, 24 million people, have broadband access. That's up from 6 million two years ago.

The Pew Report also notes that surfing patterns of high-speed users "reveal two values that policymakers, industry leaders, and the public should bear in mind":

• Broadband users don't want to be fenced in. The idea of walling off some portions of the Internet would make them very unhappy.

• They want fast upload as well as download speeds. (The record industry would probably fight this, saying it would make it even easier to share MP3 files.)

We are just at the tip of the broadband iceberg. Soon, you'll be able to get broadband access in cafes, restaurants, bookstores, you name it, all across America. We're not an Internet culture yet. But the more people who have broadband access, the closer we get to it.

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