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Demand grows for fast Net service

NEW YORK -- Middle- and working-class Americans signed up for high-speed Internet access in record numbers in the past year, apparently lured by a price war.

Broadband adoption increased 59 percent from March last year to March 2006 among US households with incomes between $30,000 and $50,000, according to a survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. It increased 40 percent in households making less than $30,000 a year. Among blacks, it increased 121 percent, according to the study.

Middle- and lower-income households still lag when it comes to broadband adoption. Among $30,000-$50,000 households, 43 percent have broadband, compared to 68 percent for those making more than $75,000.

Overall, 42 percent of adult Americans, or 84 million people, have broadband, compared to 30 percent a year ago.

Phone companies last year started slashing prices for broadband service that uses a regular phone line to establish a digital subscriber line, or DSL. Both Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc. introduced $14.99 per month offers.

``It seems like the aggressive pricing strategies have had some effect for DSL providers in those middle-income segments," said John Horrigan, associate director for research at Pew.

The average monthly fee for DSL was $32 in December, compared to $41 for cable. A year and a half earlier, DSL cost almost as much as cable.

A separate survey by Leichtman Research said DSL has now overtaken cable modems in popularity among middle-income households, though cable modems still make up the majority of home broadband connections overall, at 52 percent.

Principal analyst Bruce Leichtman said that figure probably underreported cable modems slightly.

Leichtman said that while DSL is making strides, cable is also adding customers quickly. ``The fact is they're both winning. From a profitability standpoint, cable is winning a lot better."

Broadband connections also make it much easier for users to put content on the Internet.

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