2.1 million people still use AOL dial-up

Posted at 6:39 PM, May 10, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-10 18:39:07-04

(CNN) — It may sound crazy, but 2.1 million people in the United States still use AOL dial-up to connect to the Internet.

Beep-beep-beep. Chcck. Eeeerrrhhrr. Bhrrrh. Hccccchhh-ZZzzZZzzz. That. They hear that.

That number was in AOL’s quarterly earnings report Friday.

It’s shocking, given that 70% of Americans connect to the Internet over much faster broadband. The average U.S. broadband speed is 11.4 Megabits per second. That’s 200 times faster than dial-up’s 56 Kilobits per second.

Even smartphones are more than 100 times faster than that.

That 56k modem connection essentially means 2.1 million people experience the Web like it’s 1995, with simple pictures slowly downloading top-to-bottom. Remember that?

Except it’s actually worse. Nowadays, the most popular websites are layered with data-gobbling software add-ons that slow down your experience.

Facebook  has videos that automatically play themselves. YouTube displays interactive advertisements with buttons. Twitter is full of GIFs — moving images that are a few seconds long and repeat endlessly.

On broadband, these extra lines of computer code add to the data we download.

And get ready for this. Some of these AOL customers are still paying for this. The average AOL dial-up user is paying $20 a month — a dollar more than last year.

AOL  says its 2.1 million dial-up customers include some subscribers who are paying “reduced monthly fees.” There are some who aren’t paying at all, because they threatened to leave AOL, so the company gave them a discount. (This is an old trick to reducing your bill.) It also includes people on free trials. (Who just joined this club?).

But if you crunch the numbers, that means some people are actually paying more than $20 a month to get dial-up Internet from AOL. And it would take these people about four minutes to download this popular GIF of an old man dancing at a party.

So, who are these people? A 2009 study from the Pew Research Center sheds some insight: 32% of dial-up users said they couldn’t afford to upgrade. Most of the rest said broadband either wasn’t available — or they just didn’t care to change.

The numbers from AOL show these people are stubborn. The number of dial-up subscribers plummeted in the mid-2000s, but since then the decline has been pretty slow. AOL counted 4.6 million dial-up users in 2010, and only 500,000 people or so leave every year.

At this rate, there will still be dial-up users out there in 2019.

Keep in mind, this comes at a time when the Federal Communications Commission says staying connected is so important, it’s regulating high-speed Internet as a public utility. That’s why the FCC adopted historic Internet rules in February.