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NetClue: Billboards fly by on broadband highway

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The future arrived at my home last month. It came in the form of an ADSL (asynchronous digital subscriber line) modem installed by BellSouth, my local telephone company.

This device gives me 1.5 million bits per second of bandwidth, vs. the 28.8 thousand bits per second of the average modem. This is the difference between accessing the Internet from a faucet and a fire hose.

Broadband, which means a lot of data can be pushed through the "pipe" at high speed, is supposed to deliver the true promise of the Internet and change society completely -- everybody will be in touch with everybody else everywhere. The promise of broadband is reflected in the huge prices paid by investors for Internet stocks. Yahoo!, for instance, is valued at 110 times its revenue.

But does broadband really change things? My family and I were happy to find out.

The speed disadvantage

Bad news for marketers: If anything, I take even less notice of Web banners with broadband than I did when they came through the modem. Because the content I want now loads at the same time the ads do, not after them, it's easier to avert my eye from the ads.

My kids react the same way.

For instance, sites such as CartoonNetwork.com, Disney.com and Nickelodeon Online have done a lot of work to create clever click-throughs.

Nickelodeon Online offers a fake-out advertisement. Click on a banner reading "Fool Your Friends, Amuse Your Enemies, Become Invisible" and you get a message reading "Gotcha." I had to learn this myself, because neither of my children ever clicked there.

CartoonNetwork.com has pages for some characters under its "Space Ghost" page. One, for Moltar, has a banner along one side asking if you'd like to see his "wife" naked. Click and the villain appears on the screen saying, "You're no friend of mine." But my kids have never clicked.

Disney tries a harder sell, with a pop-up ad on its home page for its $5.95-a-month "Daily Blast" service. Again, the kids don't give a click. (The kids, in fact, generally avoid the Disney sites entirely, preferring the online games of Nick and CartoonNetwork.)

The performance of smaller ads, like those that Lycos and other sites place on the sides or bottom of pages, is even poorer with broadband. I just don't notice them, because my eyes are focused toward the center of the page where the content is.

Among the most popular sites, MSNBC.com makes the most use of broadband. Its home page offers plug-ins -- installed in less than a minute -- for audio or video and scrolling headlines, and a menu that nests headlines three layers deep. Many stories also have video files.

But do I spend more time there? No, not unless I'm showing off my ADSL modem to the neighbors. When they're not around, I treat it just like any other site.

Save time, win business

I may be an unusual user, but I don't spend more money online because of broadband, and I don't spend as much time, because I'm no longer waiting for text pages to load.

All this has tremendous implications for Internet marketing. I'd like some tools that would let me organize my shopping lists and that would understand my preferences. When bandwidth is no longer the issue, time becomes the issue. In the world of broadband, save me time and you'll win my business.

Dana Blankenhorn is a free-lance journalist who specializes in Internet issues and is publisher of the Web site www.a-clue.com.

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