75% of dial-up users are satisfied with their current speeds.
May 3, 2002 12:43 PM   Subscribe

75% of dial-up users are satisfied with their current speeds. This opinion piece states that, out of those people that have not yet made the switch to broadband, only 25% of them even would if available. Thus, little ISP's shouldn't worry about losing dial up business so much anymore. Can the Internet continue to evolve at 56K speeds?
posted by WolfDaddy (47 comments total)
That's my experience too WolfDaddy, most people I know find it OK unless they have a really shitty ISP. The thing is, 75% of people on the net (despite what we might think) don't download Photoshop, massive amounts of MP3s and watch trailers on-line. I haven't got broadband myself but I do have flat-rate and downloading 160 megas is just a question of starting the download before I go to bed and then finding it there when I wake up. Of course I'd love broadband and will get it soon (when I love house) but that's because I know what it would mean, most people don't and won't until they start to see it in their friend's house, like TIVO. I reckon it's a vicious circle, they just can't see the stuff that would convince them to change. Like downloading from Blockbuster in 2 minutes or something like that. Good post. This is one of the most important questions around right now. Why are people satisfied when just a year or two ago they were pissed off?
posted by Zootoon at 1:00 PM on May 3, 2002

If I ever need to download large files, I just do it at work with a fast connection... I wonder how many people have 'access' to a fast connection (at work or elsewhere) even if they have dialup at home?
posted by cell divide at 1:04 PM on May 3, 2002

Has anyone actually made money selling high speed access, via cable or DSL, in the US?
posted by dglynn at 1:05 PM on May 3, 2002

I've gone from broadband back to dial-up before, and i don't really find it a problem. Hell, i don't even have flash installed, so don't worry about that. And as far as downloads go, IRC is reliable enough for mp3's where i don't get disconnected, and for big downloads, all ya need is program that picks up lost connections, like DAP. All I really use the Internet for is AIM, a few updates, and IRC (well, and an ftp server while at school on the cable)...overall, i don't find it a problem at all to use dial-up
posted by jmd82 at 1:06 PM on May 3, 2002

My connex at home is faster than at work. I get pissed at how slow this can be sometimes. Barely quick enough for MeFi reloads.

It all really seems to come down to what your needs are. If you are just checking e-mail and reading newsgroups, broadband seems like overkill. My mom doesn't want it. Can't see why anyone would.
posted by adampsyche at 1:10 PM on May 3, 2002

It's not the speed. It's the always on connection that transforms the internet experience for users with broadband.

I'm sure if you asked a bunch of TV owners during the transition from color to black and white a bunch of people would have said they are satisfied with black and white.
posted by willnot at 1:13 PM on May 3, 2002

This is an interesting subject, because like the .com bubble, it highlights how distorted a view people here on Mefi, and throughout the Internet/Telcom world, have of the Web and its future. Most people have a non-virtual life, use the Web for e-mail and chat, and really, could still get by nicely with floppy disk-sized files. At current price points, broadband as a mass market phenomenon is probably further away than even HDTV.
Personally, I sip coffee during the seconds' time it takes as Mefi, or the NYT downloads to my browser over a my dialup. I'm not paying an extra $20/month so that it takes 2 seconds instead of 15 or 20 seconds. And I suspect I'll wait even longer for baby pictures. And most people care even less than me about speed at home.

So watch what you invest in.
posted by ParisParamus at 1:19 PM on May 3, 2002

willnot. Please explain.

P.S.: I would sooner invest $20/month extra to get e-mail on my PDA than go for broadband.
posted by ParisParamus at 1:23 PM on May 3, 2002

I'm sure if you asked a bunch of TV owners during the transition from color to black and white a bunch of people would have said they are satisfied with black and white

I was thinking something similar probably happened with cable tv. Currently 68% of homes with television also have cable (stats). In 1980 about half as many people (percentage wise) had cable, and I bet most people without it at that time thought why bother when they can get regular TV for free. I'm guessing it wasn't until people actual saw cable at friends, hotels (I remember when that was something important for a Motel to advertise, now I can't imagine there are many Motel/Hotels with out it) that it became something they wanted. It seems likely that eventually the number of people who want high speed access will increase as they see more people who have it. I could be wrong, but it seems that the price of dial up access has gone up over the last few years (and most of the free ISPs seem to have gone out of business) and over time a fair number of people will decide the price difference (between dial up and high speed) isn't big enough not to get high speed.

Also, most kids today (in the U.S) have grown up accustomed to being online, so they may be more prone to pay for high speed access when they get jobs and money, simply because their life is more internet focussed.
posted by m@L at 1:31 PM on May 3, 2002

in my previous broadband experience, it was indeed the always-on, not-blocking-the-phone factor that made it most cool, even more than the speed. example: call best friend to see about going to a movie, neither of us has the paper, so I go online to check times, etc. - without having to hang up the phone. yay!

that said, I gave it up right after the @home/AT&T switchover debacle, because 12+ hours on hold made me crazy, and we're trying to save money.

(I don't have cable either.)
posted by epersonae at 1:46 PM on May 3, 2002

willnot, re broadband being "always on":

True. So true. Having your internet connection hang up on you, or fail to connect the first time, is far and away the most annoying thing about dialup connections. The speed is entirely secondary unless you're downloading files.

I recently moved and had my DSL disconnected. My current (Earthlink) dialup connection has disconnected on me maybe twice in two months. It's the best dialup I've ever dealt with. Result? I haven't felt compelled to go through the rigamarole of getting DSL installed in my new place. I miss the speed sometimes but it's just not been an imperative.
posted by furiousthought at 1:49 PM on May 3, 2002

I have DSL at home, but I also keep a cheap dial up account (3 hours/month @ $5) because I can't access the internet on the road with my DSL account. You'd think for $50/month they could throw in a few hours of dial up.

I don't know if I'm the only one, but I've actually had times where I thought I was connected to the internet via DSL and for whatever reason I had been disconnected. Maybe it's just me or Verizon, but it happens almost as much as I used to get booted from my dial up.
posted by whtsherbkt at 1:58 PM on May 3, 2002

In Japan, phone use is metered at 10 yen per three minutes. The only discount packages available are Time Plus (extra 200 yen per month) which extends the metered block to five minutes and Telehodai (extra 1800 yen per month), which allows unmetered access to two phone numbers you've specified between 11pm and 8am. So using a dialup means either monstrous phone bills or bleary-eyed 3am surfing. I usually wound up spending between $150-200 a month for web access.

Flat-rate DSL has been a godsend for both my budget and sleeping habits.

Always-on is cool, but for me the real joy is the fatness of the pipe. I don't have to take care to load pages serially anymore -- clicking five links in five windows brings them all up at once instead of sludging like CheeseWhiz through a straw. And while downloading a Mozilla build, I can still surf without noticable delay while the program comes barrelling down the pipe at 50-100K a second. Heaven...
posted by nikzhowz at 2:12 PM on May 3, 2002

DSL is cool and my DSL provider (Earthlink/Mindspring) does actually provide a free dialup account along with their DSL accounts, making travelling and connecting a no-brainer.

BTW, the real article describing the results of this Jupiter Media Metrix survey is available. And here's the press release from Jupiter Media Metrix which spins the numbers under the headline, Consumer Interest In Getting Broadband Hits All-Time High. Hilarious!
posted by yarf at 2:20 PM on May 3, 2002

Yarf: that spin actually calls into question the underlying stats as well. Those who wll pay to obtain this survey want to hear this message. GRAIN OF SALT.
posted by ParisParamus at 2:24 PM on May 3, 2002

I have ofte4n asked my friends using AOL why they pay more than other dial-ups and get annoyed by serivce and whatnot. Guess what?they don't change. Habit. Fear that they wil need to have new e-mail address. Uncertainty. Man (and babes too) creatures of habit...the old ways are just fine, thank you. I switched to cable and love it.
posted by Postroad at 2:27 PM on May 3, 2002

" It all really seems to come down to what your needs are. If you are just checking e-mail and reading newsgroups, broadband seems like overkill. My mom doesn't want it. Can't see why anyone would."

adampsyche, I'm someone's mom and I spend at least 30 hours a week on the internet. I'd love to be able to download trailers instead of having my son download them and then burn CDs for me, but it's a matter of money more than need.

I just switched from a shitty ISP to Earthlink, and my download speed has doubled, not to mention not being knocked offline constantly. Would I like broadband? Sure, but I doubt that I'll ever be able to afford it. I can't afford cable TV either, and I'm surviving.

Just don't assume that people stick with dialup because they don't know better or don't have that much to do online.
posted by gordian knot at 2:35 PM on May 3, 2002

I'm really interested in what speeds people have on their internet connection for a couple of reasons. I've never seen DSL or Cable so I don't know what it's like. My speed is 26,400 bps; is that normal/acceptable? Thing is, it seems fast to me because until this January it was about half that...I live way out in the stix and my phone prefix was the last one in Oregon to still have an Analog Switch; every telephone office that was upgraded in Oregon and Washington sent their old Analog Switch parts down here for salvage until our Congressman stepped in and made Quest install a 5 million dollar Digital Switch (Quest had wanted to wait 5 more years!) Now I finally understand what all the fuss was about caller ID, call forwarding, etc. Cable and DSL will never be available here, only satellite, which costs more than a new computer. So, I am 'satisfied', but I don't bother with flash or radio/music/videoes.
posted by Mack Twain at 2:38 PM on May 3, 2002

I can only manage a 31.2k dialup from home due to telephone infrastructure in my neighborhood. But cable access wasn't worth $50/month. (That's even more true now that Comcast has cut the speeds by more than 50%.) Once my brother moved in and we split that cost in half, it was worth it. Plus the ability for both of us to be on simultaneously.

If I was alone and could get a ~48k dialup connection, I wouldn't bother with cable access either. It's not worth the $$$ for e-mail and several hours of casual surfing at home, IMHO.

Although... while not a killer app, I will admit that being able to listen to Internet radio is pretty cool in the radio wasteland that Detroit has become. Of course, CARP may make that a moot point soon.
posted by pmurray63 at 2:46 PM on May 3, 2002

A recent move has forced us into a location which isn't serviceable due to fiber lines between the house and the CO. It was a huge shock to not even have DSL available to us from this location and I have to say that I miss it every day. The Dial-Up provider (Speakeasy) is fabulous as Dial-Ups go and I find myself hanging online all day (I've just passed the eight hour mark). I do miss the speed. It is quite common to be moving big files around the net or to have more than two people browsing simultaneously.

DSL shouldn't be treated as any more special than a toaster. I don't think we should feel any more privileged to be able to sit down at a machine and browse for movie listings, or the answer to a trivia question than we do to walk in and pull a bagel hot and crispy from the toaster. Of course a toaster was a novel and cool item for the first several years, but its luster has faded. DSL's luster and price will continue to drop. Then, someday, we'll be tempted with even fatter pipes by the infrastructure barons.
posted by YohonTheLarge at 2:55 PM on May 3, 2002

Why do I love my fat pipe? Because I can download mp3s, trailers, films, software updates, full software packages, visit madly but funkily overdesigned sites and so on. How much of this is going to entice an average, non-technical person into getting broadband? Not too much. Sure all the music and video that can be dowloaded might appeal but isn't that illegal or something? As for the software, the stuff that came on the CD-ROM seems to work okay - might as well stick with it.

I think that once the widespread frameworks are in place to buy and then download (or stream) music, video and software then broadband will have its day.
posted by MUD at 2:58 PM on May 3, 2002

It's not the speed. It's the always on connection that transforms the internet experience for users with broadband.

For me it is the speeeeeed. I was super sold the first time I downloaded a 30 page pdf doc in seconds. The graphics stuff is like icing on the cake. (Always on ain't bad either).
posted by caraig at 3:12 PM on May 3, 2002

If I ever, for some reason I can't currently imagine, found myself forced to move to a place that didn't have DSL, I wouldn't bother using the web at home and might not bother setting up a 'net connection at all. It just isn't worth the frustration.

I haven't used a modem in three years. The only situation where I can imagine knuckling under and getting another dialup account is if I took off wandering the world for a year or two and wanted to keep in touch while on the road.

Then again, I get the impression the majority of people browse the web using one single browser window at a time. If you do that, you are probably already used to waiting for pages to load. I rarely have fewer than three browsers open at a time, and every time a new page loads I simply switch to another window and pick up whatever I was doing on that thread. I just don't think I have enough patience to use a modem.

Besides, I get all the web surfing time I need when waiting for the compiler to finish grinding away on whatever it's doing. I will usually check my email a few times during the evening, but I could easily live without 'net access outside work hours.

posted by Mars Saxman at 3:15 PM on May 3, 2002

If I could actually get a decent connection, I'd be happy with dial-up, but I haven't since my original ISP shut down and became a hosting service. With them -- in the old days, the first commercial PPP service in Chicago -- I could get 50K almost all the time. With successor ISPs it's been closer to 44K, and now on AOL it's technically 40K but AOL always gives you that ~20% overhead to run their client, so it's closer to 32K in terms of real downloads.

At least I can get cable now -- I spent 8 months of 2000 trying to get DSL, until it turned out I needed an $800 (!) wiring job because they couldn't get a good pair into my apartment.
posted by dhartung at 3:15 PM on May 3, 2002

I went from a year of broadband (college dorm) back to dial-up and didn't find it as painful as I thought it would be. The only reason I can think of for having broadband personally are for mp3's. That's not exactly a huge motovation either. I just cue up a few albums, go to bed, wake up 7 hours later with 20 or so songs downloaded.

When the price comes down to within tossing-distance of dial-up people will flock to it.
posted by ttrendel at 3:24 PM on May 3, 2002

it turned out I needed an $800 (!) wiring job because they couldn't get a good pair into my apartment.
Could you enlighten me on this - just a technical interest, these things vary greatly from country to country. Just don't know quite what you mean.
On the subject, is it now mandatory for builders in the US to prepare new buildings for cable as it is here (Spain)?
posted by Zootoon at 3:24 PM on May 3, 2002

I've never been happy with dial up. I play a lot of mods for Q3a and some of them are impractically large downloads. I can tell you authoratitively that dowloading a 90mb file at 4.5kbps is extremely annoying. Particularly with cutoffs every 2 hours. I want a broadband connection very badly.
posted by davidgentle at 3:28 PM on May 3, 2002

I too am satisfied with dial up. I've got access to high speed connections at my school, so if I really need something big I'll just bring in a bunch of zip disks. I still play Team Fortress and Wolfenstien on my dial up fine.

And when I hear those commercials saying "Pay us $50 a month and you can download streaming audio and video!!" I just crank up things like streambox vcr or asf recorder and leave my computer on while at work or sleeping or wherever.
posted by Keen at 3:31 PM on May 3, 2002

when i told my mom she ought to get dsl, she told me that modem speed was plenty fast enough for her. now that she has it, she can't live without it. Generally speaking, she doesn't look at graphics/flash intensive pages, and she pretty much downloads nothing whatsoever. And even she will admit that she is a pretty slow reader. All this notwithstanding, the speed difference is noticable.

It does help that dsl for us is only $40 canadian btw.
posted by juv3nal at 3:32 PM on May 3, 2002

I thought mp3 downloading was supposed to be the broadband killer app. Possibly post-Napster confusion in the mainstream is subduing interest in fat pipes. Here in Canadia, Bell is testing an advanced DSL plan that came with a few hundred megs of online storage - the idea being people would store their mp3s online and get at them from anywhere. Even though the plan ain't no good (too expensive for not enough storage space), I thought it was great that a) they were thinking of new ways to sell broadband and b) they were willing to do so at the expense of the MPAA, etc.

I would say that unless someone comes up with some must-have killer app for broadband, and the broadband ISPs use it to promote their services, we won't see any massive growth in use. Which is fine with me - you can do plenty of neat things with text & images, so I don't think it's stifling internet evolution or anything like that. There's plenty of other people telling us that the future of the Net is in hand-held yada yada this & that, which is growth in the opposite direction. (New! Low Speed Internet!)
posted by D at 3:46 PM on May 3, 2002

clearly this is a huge problem and we must outlaw such things as general purpose PCs without hardwired copyright protection immediatly.
posted by delmoi at 4:27 PM on May 3, 2002

I haven't been able to get DSL or Cable went with Satellite a year ago contract is up and I'm going back to dialup actually I kept my dialup in addition much more reliable and of course with the bad ping times, and slow upload speeds (no better than dialup) the only benefit was downloads so at one third the price I'll take dialup. For ordinary surfing it is much better than my experience with the Satellite. So if you're tempted by Starband don't. If you insist I have a dish and modem I'll let go for a song :) I do like the DSL I have at the office.
posted by onegoodmove at 4:32 PM on May 3, 2002

and besides, 75% of that 75% are AOL users who think broadband is the dixie chicks.
posted by quonsar at 4:34 PM on May 3, 2002

I couldn't live without broadband. I mean I could, but I would have to pay a bunch of money to someone. Right now in my basement is a server hosting several domains for web/mail. When I bought my house last year, the only condition I gave my wife was that broadband must be available. I don't really download much from home, but when I do, it's usually a 50MB patch, or 600MB ISO or something large. I'm not wired like some people, I have no PDA, and 75% of the time, my cell is turned off on my dresser. But my server must stay on, so that's why broadband is necessary for me.

Besides, no broadband, no sub-100 pings :(, I would definitely not be a LPB anymore.
posted by patrickje at 5:06 PM on May 3, 2002

I hate, hate, hate being stuck on dialup again, after having DSL for two years. It's so depressing that I don't even bother surfing at home any more. I use the home PC for checking email once a day on weekends, and that's it.

And there's no hope for me at the moment, because I have the world's worst telco and the world's worst cable company and they're both monopolies in this area.

Broadband has been "six months away" from this neighborhood for the last three years.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:26 PM on May 3, 2002

i love my cable connection and was able to lower the monthly cost by just buying a cable router and running a line to my neighbors house. now we all split the bandwidth and the price. i would think that with wireless networking you could get a couple people involved and easily bring the price down to $20/month per person. our bill is $60/month (including basic cable) so between myself, my roomie and my neighbor... it works out great.
posted by ggggarret at 7:21 PM on May 3, 2002

I have DSL at home, but I also keep a cheap dial up account (3 hours/month @ $5) because I can't access the internet on the road with my DSL account.

Try these guys. I use them with my VisorPhone. 20 hours for $7, and the hours are good for a whole year.
posted by kindall at 8:09 PM on May 3, 2002

One thing that is definitely stopping widespread broadband use in the US is the price. $50?? I'm at my parents place in Montreal, and even though neither of my parents is very computer savvy, (my mother just asked me to fix her computer because she couldn't access the internet after she disconnected from the internet) they have a dsl connection.

Why? At $30/mo cdn (about $20US), it's the same price as the dialup connection they had, from the same company. Having a fast connection means that my brother and I can email them large pictures and small movies. . There are at least 4 companies here that offer it. I think you guys are lacking some competition.
posted by sauril at 9:04 PM on May 3, 2002

sauril, I believe you might be right. Now tell us about this competition thingy, and how did you get it?
posted by dglynn at 10:51 PM on May 3, 2002

One thing that is definitely stopping widespread broadband use in the US is the price. $50??

Don't think of it as an expensive dial-up, think of it as a really, really cheap T1.
posted by kindall at 11:28 PM on May 3, 2002

maybe 75% of dialup users don't have a CD burner?
posted by mcsweetie at 11:45 PM on May 3, 2002

Tech-popularity is based on the lowest common denominator. Notice that there was no big stink over cda file-sharing, but one over mp3 file-sharing. Also notice that most free/share/foo-ware files are zip files. If not for file compression, broadband would be a necessity. Compression made it possible for individuals to access large amounts of info on a small amount of bandwidth, and is therefore the arch-nemesis of broadband.

The question is which factor will further facilitate consumer needs. If need grows further(which is inevitable) and compression technology has reached its limit (which I believe it has,for the most part), then broadband will win out. If a huge development in compression comes along, then count on broadband services being on the ropes for the next 15 years or so.
posted by ttrendel at 11:53 PM on May 3, 2002

"Has anyone actually made money selling high speed access, via cable or DSL, in the US?"

In niche markets, yes. For instance, Covad is cash positive in most of the regions that it serves, and will be profitable around the middle of next year. I know that it's quite profitable in the Bay Area, which is its oldest region. (Note - I used to work for Covad.)

The problem that all the big broadband providers have had is that rather than building up strong regional followings, they tried going national. That meant deploying equipment and building facilities all over the place. This also meant that when the market went really sour, these companies were stuck in a position where they couldn't get additional funding and had to liquidate huge portions of their business in order to have a chance at surviving.

As a result, the indie national broadband providers (DSL and cable) largely went under, although there are still some regional providers that never chose to expand that are doing okay right now and should survive.

What determined the survival of some of these companies and doomed others?

- The speed and depth of their cuts to remove the biggest money-losing aspects of their business.

- The level of funding they had available to tide them through. Time-Warner and SBC obviously had a better shot of surviving than Northpoint or Rhythms.

- The level of focus on business over residential service. Business-level broadband costs more, allows you to bundle in additional services, and requires a lower overhead, since it usually means installing equipment in fewer facilities -- you don't have to support the entire city, but can concentrate your efforts on the most profitable regions.

- The level of automation and ease of install. Covad had a big advantage on Northpoint and Rhythms, because of its level of integration with all the regional phone companies, allowing for line sharing self-installable DSL with only about two actions needed by any Covad staff, and no truck roll required. All the rest was automatically provisioned.

When it comes to DSL, the best way to get a return on investment is to decrease the # of truck rolls needed to install the service, since each one costs about $300 or so. Early DSL installs often required several truck rolls. A tech might go out to the location, only to find that the phone company failed to provision a line correctly. They'd then have to set up a meeting with the phone company at the install location to sort things out -- often the phone company would miss the meeting. After that, they'd still have to schedule another truck roll or two to handle the install and configuration. How quickly can you make up for $1200 + $200 in hardware at $39.95 a month?!

Today, however, with self-install and automated provisioning, most self-installs happen within a week or so and the cost is about $20 of labor, another $150 for the hardware, and you're lucky if you're paying only $49.95 a month. Much better ROI... and if the line's distance and quality doesn't meet their standards and everything doesn't look really profitable and easy to do, they don't provide service, they don't want your business -- unless you're willing to pay extra for business class service.

That leaves the question, if people are happy with their modems, will they switch? The answer is yes, but it will take a sustained economic recovery first. An economic recovery will make it a lot easier for companies to get the funds to go back after the consumer market with a passion and to offer special incentives and pricing to get people to switch over. I have heard that given the right conditions, both cable and DSL costs could go down to $25 a user. Add in some extra features like voice-over-broadband and you've taken over from the phone company too. Deals and partnerships will be made. Buy a Dell computer and get a built-in DSL modem and free DSL for the first six months! Order our HBO jumbo cable package and get broadband installed, free of charge!

Oh yeah, they'll switch to broadband. And when they do switch, they'll never want to go back to their crappy modems ever again...

That isn't to say that the Internet needs broadband to evolve, however. Does Microsoft need 80 gig hard drives and 1.7 GHz Pentium 4's to create an operating system that doesn't suck? Maybe if the world doesn't have broadband overnight, it will be a blessing in disguise -- site designers will have a few years to think about things like performance, code optimization, and loading times.

Sort of makes you wish that Microsoft was ordered to make any operating system that they design work on a 386sx, doesn't it?
posted by markkraft at 2:27 AM on May 4, 2002

I, too, am fine with 56k at home (altho downloading a "trial" version of Flash MX might take me days). I do have a T1 at work.

But I am often unceremoniously cutoff from my ISP during sessions and would love to find a good flat rate ISP. Any suggestions, local (I'm in DC) or national?
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 6:31 AM on May 4, 2002

"little ISP's shouldn't worry about losing dial up business so much anymore. "

Let's try a car analogy to point out the flaw in this logic.

Most people are not willing or can't afford to shell out $60K for a BMW.
Therefore John Smith's small, local car dealership that sells only Honda Civics is not in danger of being put out of business by Honda Civics R' US Car Conglomerate, Inc.


Just because people aren't willing or can't afford the switch to DSL doesn't mean small ISPs are not in danger of being put out of business by AOL, AT&T, MSN.......the issue that small ISPs face is clearly not from DSL, but from large providers of dialup services.
posted by rbellon at 7:21 AM on May 4, 2002

Taken Outtacontext -

I live out in the Virginia 'burbs and use Earthlink. There's only one dialup number listed for DC, but you should be able to use the 20-30 numbers they have set up for the surrounding areas as well. I rarely get disconnected, and have never been dropped when I was actively using the conection.

But, we got cable wired to the house today - although I dont think I am going to give up my Earthlink account just yet. We'll see how reliable Cox is going to be before I go and get all cocky.
posted by Irontom at 8:14 PM on May 4, 2002

Thanks Irontom.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 5:30 AM on May 5, 2002

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