One wishes one could be a Cyberflaneur. If only much about the internet in the US worked as described. As a 'rural' user - only 50 miles west of DC - I have to use Verizon Wireless broadband, a service whose price is premium yet whose quality is 'variable' at best - For example I have just spent an hour struggling with a poor connection before having the ability to make this post and now the service is fluctuating, in the same location, from a full 3 bars to near zero over less than a minute. Verizon have functioning monopoly, alas.
Though on average slower, dial up was at least more reliable -- but the quality of connection available over phone lines has deteriorated as Verizon fails to maintain them. From this observers perspective Verizon is using poor service as a means force people into premium wireless services, where there are no statutory obligations, and the hapless user becomes merely a source of cash flow to be milked. From the design of its bills with their barely legible, frequently smeared, 16 pt. typefaces, to its websites which are not usable because of poor quality of internet connection, to its phone 'customer service' which can take 10 -15 minutes to reach alive person - attempting to deal with Verizon is an exercise in passive aggression. (One can be on and off the phone with a Microsoft rep in less time than it takes to struggle through the menus and then reach a person at Verizon)
The single largest impediment to any form of internet use by a substantial minority of the US population is service of the quality that companies like Verizon provide. They can talk about their quality only because they have effectively removed the ability of customers to complain -- or even for them to determine if they are providing the minimal contractual level of service.