Statistically speaking, Americans tend to have very slow and clunky Internet connections compared to most residents of the developed world — slow enough that just this week, the FCC proposed raising the minimum downloading speed required for an Internet connection to qualify as “broadband.”
Under current FCC standards, “broadband” connections must be able to download data at a minimum speed of 4 megabytes per second (Mbps). The FCC wants to raise that minimum to 10Mbps. Even that is quite slow compared to the global average broadband speed: 17.9 Mbps as of last April.
How do these numbers compare to typical contemporary Internet activities? To offer just one example: current Netflix guidelines recommend a minimum speed of 5 Mbps to watch a movie in HD.
Still, even under the current pathetic 4 Mbps standard, almost 20 percent of Americans today lack access to a reliable broadband Internet connection, according to the FCC.
Coincidentally, AOL released it quarterly earnings report on Wednesday of the same week the FCC considered raising the national bar for broadband.
What does that report say? Despite its efforts to be an advertising and media company, a huge chunk of AOL's earnings still come from dialup subscribers – an average of $20.48 per user, over the past three months. (That said: the number of dialup subscribers has been steadily decreasing: AOL said it had 5.8 million subscribers in June 2009, compared to only 2.6 million four years later.)
Some of those dialup subscribers probably have no choice — depending where you live, there are still plenty of places in the continental United States where dialup is your only practical Internet option. (Remember the FCC statistic: almost one-fifth of the population lives in places where even a 4 Mbps downloading speed isn't available.)
But chances are good many of those AOL subscribers are there purely by oversight — say, years ago they set up an automatic bill payment for their now-ancient AOL dialup subscription, upgraded later to a broadband connection … and forgot to unsubscribe to AOL. According to the earnings report, the average AOL dialup subscription is 14 years old.
Do you have an AOL dialup connection? If so, should you cancel or keep it?
That depends: if you have two Internet subscriptions – you're paying for AOL in addition to Cox, Comcast, Time-Warner or any other broadband provider – chances are you don't need that AOL account, and might not even use it anymore. In that case, cancel the account and keep that money for yourself.
However, if AOL is the only online subscription you have, don't cancel it just yet — you do need a home Internet connection, after all — but you really should check to see if there isn't a better, faster Internet provider in your area … so you can switch to it, and then cancel your AOL dialup subscription and keep that money for yourself.