But streaming media, such as Web radio stations and video feeds, immediately show the limits of dial-up connections.
Just listen to the different audio streams provided by the Seattle alternative radio station KEXP (www.kexp.org). Its 20 Kbps Windows Media stream sounds like bad AM -- acceleration can't help this tightly compressed data -- and its 56 Kbps MP3 stream barely competes with a clock radio.
Only KEXP's 96 Kbps Windows Media or MP3 streams equal what you'd hear from a good home or car stereo. So if you want to rock out online, budget for at least 128 Kbps and preferably 256 Kbps of download speed.
Video sucks up even more bandwidth -- over dial-up, you'll usually get tinny, no-fi audio and blurry, blotchy footage. For this, get 384 Kbps or faster.
Want to play online games or work remotely from home? You'll need still more download velocity, 600 Kbps or faster, and upload speeds of 128 Kbps or above.
There are few compelling reasons for home users to pay for speeds much faster than that. It's like splurging on the fastest available PC -- will you actually notice the extra power if nobody reminds you about it?
Then there's the issue of how often you log on each day -- and in this respect, broadband shuts down dial-up. Its "always on" nature is what I appreciate most often.
There is no wait for a modem to squawk and screech its way through setting up the connection; your computer is silently and constantly linked to the Internet for the next time you want to read your e-mail, send an instant message or check an eBay listing.
Keeping a second phone line for dial-up use is no answer -- it'll push your Internet-access costs past those of most broadband plans.
If you do decide that the math favors broadband, what kind should you get? Geography may make that decision for you.