HSD has been cable’s bread and butter for 2-3 years, a product that’s easy and inexpensive to deploy, and one that seems to incite a nearly inexhaustible demand. (Studies claim the Top 10 MSOs saw HSD take rates rise from 55.6% to more than 60% in FY ’03.) As much as HSD has saved cable’s hash, however, there remains a huge divide between broadband users and those that opt for dialup. Fewer than 18% of Americans get online via broadband, and some observeres suggest that number won’t change much as dialup ISPs get faster and more reliable. Case in point: America Online [AOL] offers a zippy connection with "AOL 9.0" software, thanks to a free feature it calls "AOL TopSpeed." "The technology was designed and implemented with the singular focus or making the member’s Internet experience appreciably faster," anywhere from 21% to 65%, AOL says. Essentially, the upgrade relies on a little sleight-of-hand. AOL deploys cache servers to send a bot out to cache a user’s oft-visited Web pages, making the download of those pages nearly instantaneous—just the kind of thing you’d see with broadband. TopSpeed also employs proprietary image compression, which saves download time and space on AOL’s servers. Another way consumers can get that almost-broadband-but-not-quite experience is to sign on with a smaller ISP. NYC’s Broadway Net serves fewer than 5K dialup customers, but it is the most revered ISP in the city. Much of that has to do with the ratio of users to nodes (Bway.net boasts an 8-to-1 average), although price ($19.95/mo) and quicksilver customer service response (~ 5 minutes) can’t be discounted. So, does any of this give cable the chills? Not really. Most MSOs believe the needs of dialup users are worlds apart from HSD subs, who regularly download bandwidth-chewing mpegs, swap P2P files and produce personal Web pages. Cablevision [CVC], which says it offers the fastest HSD available, averaging 3.5Mbps downstream, lures ’em in and keeps ’em happy by "adding content (video, downloads, etc.) to make the value of higher speeds self-evident." The closest competitor on the radar remains DSL, which has stayed in the hunt by jacking up speeds and slashing prices. As for dialup, one MSO says it’s "not even something we think about. … We’re not in the market to go after Luddites."