People Still Use Dial-Up Internet!

People Still Use Dial-Up Internet!
4 min read
16 May 2022

Many of us were familiar with this sound back in the era of dial-up, but in this age of gigabit fiber connections, streaming 4k video, and cars that connect to the cloud AI in real time, seems like dial-up should be a distant memory. But did you know that people still use old school dial-up as their main home internet connection?

As of 2021, well over a quarter million homes in the United States relied on dial-up. And in 2020, it was estimated that around 1% of Canadians or around 38,000 people also dialed into Connect. But hold the phone, how is this possible?

Well, it turns out that quite a few folks in rural areas don't have many other options. The main alternative to dial-up in many of these places is satellite internet, which is much faster than dial-up. All you need is a clear view of the sky to get a broadband signal, so it's available from at least one provider in most remote locals, but that's about where the advantages end.

Although satellite internet is high speed in the sense that it isn't dial-up, it's still much slower per dollar than the average fixed connection, like, cable or fiber. Basic plans tend to start at around 65 bucks a month just for 10 to 25 megabytes per second. Plus, you often have to pay initial and/or monthly costs for the equipment.

SpaceX's Starlink promises faster speeds, but at even higher rates and an initial $600 fee for hardware. Guess Elon has to come up with that Twitter money from somewhere.

Satellite internet is also notoriously sensitive to the weather much like satellite TV and usually has high latency, making activities like online gaming a real chore. But even if you can put up with that, it's simply cost prohibitive for some folks in underserved areas, especially considering some dial-up providers now even provide a fixed number of hours of internet access for free each month.

The low cost of dial-up also means that devices like ATMs and card readers, which don't need much bandwidth to begin with, still often have a dial-up connection at least as a backup.

But hopeless, what about DSL? It runs over plain old phone lines and is much faster than dial-up, so why don't people in remote areas just use that?

Although higher speed DSL can run over phone wires, it requires specialized, expensive equipment at each end compared to traditional dial-up. Because it's slower than cable or fiber, many ISPs are killing off DSL because they don't want to deal with the upkeep costs, which has caused some controversy since there are people in outlawing areas that rely on it to connect to the internet at respectable speeds. Not to mention, fiber deployments tend to reach wealthier areas first.

Cost is also the reason rural areas tend to be underserved in the first place. The low population density and vast tracts of land mean that cable companies have hangups about building expensive infrastructure to every home. It's the same reason, many of these same houses can't even get cable TV. As if they'd want to these days.

And of course this isn't the late 90s where the internet was a mere novelty or luxury, it's a practical necessity to participate in modern society. So, many areas with limited options for internet access are losing population. Given the ISPs, even less of a reason to serve the folks who stay behind. But the hope is, fixed wireless technologies where an internet signal is delivered to a home via a cell network could help bridge this digital divide in the years to come, as large mobile carriers continue to build out more towers. It'll take time and money, but it could end up being more cost-effective than laying cables everywhere. And a lot quieter than listening to Google dig up your backyard.

Den W. 3243
I'm a passionate tech enthusiast who loves diving into the world of software, programming, and tech reviews.
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