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Broadband in Suburbia

Some of Brambleton's residents have already found their own television programming online. Zakir Kahn, 30, has used the Internet to download more than two dozen religious movies. "These movies are not even out in theaters," Kahn said. He purchases some films from authorized sites and others from Web sites that offer free downloads. It takes him about 30 to 40 minutes to download a two-hour movie. The long wait is one reason Kahn is looking forward to Brambleton's plans to boost the network's speed: "I think it's okay, but if we can get faster, why not?"

He also subscribes to an Internet-based telephone service that allows him to make discounted calls with his high-speed connection.


Zakir Khan, with his wife, Qudsia, in their kitchen, was attracted by Brambleton's robust Internet offering. (James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)

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Kahn, who owns a software company, said he was attracted to Brambleton because it is situated near the America Online Inc. and MCI Inc. campuses in Ashburn. But as a high-tech professional, a key factor in his decision was the robust Internet offering.

"They were the two things that really attracted me," Kahn said.

Surveys show that the Internet's most active users have high-speed connections. Popular news and entertainment sites, once the domain of dial-up users, are now geared to people like Campolattaro who have turbo-charged connections that can download video and pixel-heavy graphics in a blink.

Consumer advocates say there is much more at stake than faster Internet access and the ability to read e-mail at the community pool. They worry that the growth of broadband and the focus by telecommunications companies on upscale neighborhoods like Brambleton will create divisions between digital haves and have-nots.

Gene Kimmelman, director of the Washington office of Consumers Union, said most all-inclusive packages of television, telephone and Internet cost more than $100 a month, a total that is beyond the means of many. "There is a new digital divide. In a world where it is important to have a speedy connection to the Internet, 40 percent of the nation doesn't have access and is falling behind," Kimmelman said.

A Verizon spokesman said yesterday that current plans for its advanced networks are focused on suburban neighborhoods but that the company is working on new technologies that will lead to investment in urban and rural neighborhoods. "We believe America's broadband future should include everyone: rural and urban, rich and poor, established communities and new. Multiple technologies and multiple competing service providers will be involved in making it happen," Verizon spokesman Lawrence D. Plumb said.

But as these big new networks are rolled out, it's not clear how much service is needed. Lauren E. Hoberg, a senior at George Washington University, has a connection in her dorm room that allows her to download a two-hour movie in less than 10 minutes. But she has never downloaded a film or even a TV show. Instead she uses the Internet to research homework and check out a few favorite sites.

"I pretty much surf the Web," said Hoberg, 21.


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