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Considering that most people are still on dialup, you should probably stay as close to Brett's recommendations as you can. While affordable broadband availability has greatly increase, it still has not reached the ~80% that would justify a broadband design strategy.
But as with anything dealing with web development, KNOW YOUR TARGET AUDIANCE!
When I design for dial up users, I aim for a total page weight of 40 to 50k, including all external files (images, scripts, css) -- but with modem compression being so good today, a bit more here and there has not proved to be the same kind of problem it was ten years ago.
I have one client where the audience expects lots of product images on one page. We've got their pages around 150K total weight and they are thriving. But, their competition weighs in at 350 to 400, so I still think that minimizing page weight gives an advantage. When this client's pages grow to near 200 kb the stats start to suffer, even though conventional wisdom says this audience expects fat pages.
How does the page load? Do you get some good, usable text content within a couple seconds, and then the images start to fill in later? The big deal is usable information, visible within a few seconds. If the rest of the page needs a bit longer to download, that's OK. But if nothing at all shows up after 6-8 seconds, I would rethink the page.
Is it a JPEG? Increasing the compression ratio until the background begins to show signs of degrading. Is it a GIF image? Convert it to PNG instead. Is it horizontal or vertical gradient? Reduce the height or width down to 1 or 2 pixels (the minimum necessary to achieve the desired effect. Does it reproduce a left boarder with a large section of "white space" in order to prevent the board from repeating on the right? Cut out the "white space" and use CSS to only repeat the background vertically (background-repeat: repeat-y). Is it a picture? Then consider using something else as a background image.