N.H. businesses voice a need for Internet speed

Dial-up is fading and high-speed connections are soaring for Internet usage by New Hampshire businesses, according to a survey released Tuesday by the state that underlined the importance of fast Net access in the corporate world.

And that importance is likely to remain. For example, of all the businesses surveyed in the state, 90 percent said high-speed Internet access was important to the “overall success” of their business.

Interestingly, however, the explosion of high-speed connections doesn’t seem to have created an explosion of business usage that needs high-speed connections.

The only on-line tasks done by more than two-thirds of responding companies were performing on-line research and getting software updates – tasks that are perfectly possible over slower connections.

High-speed-dependent work like video conferencing and Web conferencing was done by less than a dozen percent of the 400 firms surveyed. Nonetheless, the survey found that the dial-up modem, whose beep-boop-beep tones have been the soundtrack of the Internet for two decades, is on the way out. The percentage of companies using them dropped a whopping 19 percentage points in a single year, between 2002 to 2003. About two-thirds of the defectors switched to cable modems, and one-third to DSL, a high-speed service provided over telephone lines. Very high-speed connections, such as dedicated T-1 lines, retained their appeal despite their high cost, thanks to their consistency and security.

The survey was performed by RKM Research and Communication for the state Division of Economic Development, which uses the information both to sell the state to new companies and to push for better broadband Internet access.

Telephone interviews were done with 40 companies in each of New Hampshire’s 10 counties, between Dec. 11 and 31 of last year. The questions covered a variety of topics concerning business usage of the Internet.

Among the conclusions:

• Cable modems grew faster than DSL between 2002 and 2003, but this may reflect geography as much as corporate desire. DSL can travel only a certain distance from telephone centers, while cable Internet is usually available over an entire cable-TV network.

• Almost half of the companies that said they planned to switch Internet service in the future said they were “most likely” to go to DSL, compared to 17 percent saying they would go to cable modems.

• Dial-up remains far and away the cheapest method of Net connection, while cable modems remain much cheaper than DSL, even though the cost of DSL fell by more than 25 percent in one year. The average monthly Internet rate in the survey was $39 for dial-up, $101 for cable modems and $176 for DSL. T-1 and other dedicated lines cost an average of $505 a month.

• Cutting-edge Net connections, such as wireless and satellite, remain marginal, with just a couple of percent of companies using each. A similar story exists for older high-speed processes such as frame-relay and ISDN, which have all but fallen off the map.

• Telecommuting has become part of New Hampshire business climate, but not a big part. Roughly half of companies said they had full- or part-time employees who worked at home with the Net on a “regular or occasional” basis. However, half of companies with more than 50 employees said telecommuting was not important to them — an opinion shared by two-thirds or more of companies with fewer than 50 employees.

• Although the North Country is considered the most bandwidth-poor part of the state, Cheshire County in southwest New Hampshire has more people living in towns with no DSL or cable modems – more than 17,000, compared to less than 13,000 in Coos County. To add insult to injury, Cheshire County businesses reported having the most expensive broadband service of any county in the state.

The complete report is available on the Web at nhtechnology.com.

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