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Survey: 50% in Greater Boston have high-speed Net service

Greater Boston is on the brink of becoming one of the first US metropolitan areas where a majority of consumers are using high-speed broadband Internet connections instead of conventional dial-up services, according to a new survey by comScore Networks, a market analysis firm.

As of the end of December, 50 percent of metropolitan Boston Internet users were on broadband services such as cable modems and telephone digital subscriber lines, and 50 percent on dial-up. In the percentage of Net subscribers on broadband, Boston lags only San Diego, which has tipped to a 52-48 advantage for broadband. Cable modems and DSL typically offer download speeds of up to 1.5 to 3 megabits per second, or 50 to 100 times faster than a dial-up phone modem, as well as a continuous Internet connection.

The approaching milestone of a broadband majority in several large US markets exemplifies the serious business challenges facing companies that offer primarily dial-up service, such as Time Warner Inc.'s America Online unit, which after years of explosive growth lost more than 2 million subscribers in the last year. Nationally, about 36 percent of Internet subscribers use broadband connections, up 2 percent from the end of September.

Russ Fradin, executive vice president of comScore Network, a Reston, Va., company that owns the MediaMetrix market analysis unit, said the rapid growth in broadband subscriptions also reflects aggressive moves by DSL providers such as Verizon Communications Inc. to cut DSL prices to as low as $30 a month when combined with local-long distance calling. That has prompted Comcast Corp. and other cable companies to offer more frequent promotional discount offers for cable modem service, which Comcast sells as an add-on to cable TV service for a regular price of $43 a month.

"It's clear that increased promotional activity and lower prices introduced by these competitors are fueling the momentum of broadband growth, particularly in larger markets," Fradin said.

Two other factors that account for the big broadband numbers in Boston: Comcast predecessor MediaOne Group made the Boston market one of the first where it offered cable modem service, starting in 1997, and RCN Corp. offers its own high-speed Internet services in parts of Boston and 15 suburbs in competition with Comcast.

Verizon nationally posted its largest subscriber growth in two years in the October-December quarter, adding 203,000 subscribers to reach 2.3 million.

Peter J. Howe can be reached at howe@globe.com.

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