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High Speed Internet Access
Broadband Internet connections: access or excess?


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Broadband connections = broad-based appeal

Like large-screen monitors, LAN's, rewriteable CD's, and so much else connected to computers, high speed connections to the Internet have gone from expensive high-end applications to relatively commonplace consumer products in a very short time.  Once too expensive for all but large businesses and institutions, high speed access to the Internet is now affordable for nearly anyone who wants it.

This is a result of new, improved technologies that eliminate the need for dedicated phone lines installed exclusively for the subscriber.  Instead, consumers can now connect through a variety of services which not only require no private wiring from the phone company (a very expensive proposition)- they may not require a telephone line at all.

Blazing speed for work or play...

Broadband is, to put it simply, the Internet as it ought to be.

The usual figure that's bandied about is "up to 50 times faster" than 28K dial-up.  Actual speeds vary with the service and the circumstances, ranging from around 256Kb to well over 1000 Kb (megabit) transfer rates.  That's kind of hard to visualize, so here's something a little more concrete:

Using a dial-up 56K modem, this page with all its ad's and content probably takes close to thirty seconds to download completely.  Most people stuck with 28K or slower hookups probably get tired of waiting and go elsewhere.  With broadband, you get this page within a couple of seconds- maybe five on a bad day, one or two on a good one.

Online video becomes a viable form of entertainment.  Online news becomes a practical source of information.  We no longer subscribe to any print media- from newspapers to magazines to research libraries, everything's online and readily accessible.

From trivial to extraordinary, the Internet becomes a truly useful tool for digging into anywhere your interests lie.

Aside from speed...

Broadband has a few advantages aside from the raw speed factor.  In some cases, these can help to offset the additional expense.

No exclusive phone line required

Unlike traditional dial-up modems, broadband Internet connections transmit and receive data simultaneously with normal voice communication traffic on the lines.

This means that you no longer have to choose whether you want to use the telephone or Internet- one does not interfere with the other.  The common solution of having two phone lines installed- one for talking and one for Internet- is no longer needed.

Multiple simultaneous access over one account

Some service providers may not like it, but once your service is installed it's relatively easy to network multiple computers for simultaneous and independent usage of the Internet through a single broadband connection.  Although it's possible to accomplish this with dial-up services, it's both easier and more reliable with broadband.

If you already have a network installed, be aware that some service providers want to charge a separate, additional, monthly fee for each network node.  We'll just point out that network cables and hubs may easily be disconnected and tucked away before the installer arrives.

Buy or rent equipment

Broadband does require special hardware- a network card installed in your computer and a specific type of modem for the service you will have: cable or DSL.  Typically, you can rent the modem from your service provider and thus avoid the initial outlay, but with rental fees around $10 monthly and modems relatively cheap, it makes more sense to buy.

We recommend renting initially, so you can evaluate the service.  Once you decide to keep it, buy and install your own modem, turn your provider's back in to them, and pocket the monthly savings.

The required network card is another story.  Buy and install your own 10/100 fast Ethernet network card before scheduling service installation.  Almost any brand will do.  We've used cards from Netgear, D-Link, Sohoware, and others, but have been particularly and uniformly pleased with networking products from Linksys.

Any of these will work as well as and cost much less than the one your provider is likely to try to sell you.

Yes, but is it justified?

Whether the high speed access that broadband provides is worth the extra cost is something no one else can tell you.  It all depends on what you do, and what you want to do.

If you're reading this, the odds are very good that you're a candidate for broadband service.  Just finding this page among the billions out there makes you more than a casual user, and if you're using dialup much of the time you spend online is spent twiddling your thumbs waiting for a page to transfer.

As a business user, the discussion is over.  Time is money and if you can't make an extra five dollars a week with the time you'll save the Internet probably doesn't make the 'A list' of concerns.

For personal or family use, the answer's not so clear.  We'd suggest looking at your total monthly usage by all the people involved, how much leisure time you have, and how you want to use it.  What gets accomplished through your Internet connection, and would it be worthwhile to accomplish more in the same amount of time, or to accomplish the same thing in less time?

Factor in the cost of accommodating a dialup, whether in the form of extra phone lines, or extra services like voice mail that would not be required if Internet access did not tie up your phone line.

In many cases, the added cost of broadband is more than offset by savings in telephone charges.  One word of caution though- don't count on free long distance voice calls made through the Internet.  When this works, it works very well and some people have been able to reduce long distance charges down to zero.  Others, though, have no success with it at all.  If it works for you, consider it a bonus.  Just be aware that it may or may not work.

Cable or DSL?

There are basically two choices for affordable high speed Internet: cable, provided by the same company over the same wiring that delivers cable television, and DSL, which is a leased service delivered over standard telephone wires.  Either connects to your computer through a specialized modem and a standard 10 megabit (or the currently more common 10/100 megabit) Ethernet network card.

The network card is typically a PCI card installed in your computer; the modem is typically an external unit connected to the incoming service on one side and to the network card on the other using standard Category 5 network cable tipped with ends that look like giant modular telephone jacks.

Unfortunately, that's where the simplicity ends.  Your choice is likely to be dictated by availability.  As you might imagine, broadband service, whether cable or DSL, requires up to date wiring and equipment from the service carrier.

Cable

If you have cable television, this is likely to be your first choice for broadband Internet.  Cable subscribers normally receive a discount making it slightly less expensive than DSL

Some cable companies still offer one-way broadband in some locations, and if this is what's available to you we strongly suggest you just say no.  One way service delivers pages quickly, but requires a simultaneous telephone connection to the ISP (Internet Service Provider) to transmit your commands.  Anytime you're online, the phone line is tied up just as it would be with a standard dialup.

We tried this when it first came out and found it pretty much useless.  Too expensive, too unreliable, too little for our money.  We got hooked up again when they upgraded our local service to two way and have stayed connected ever since.

With two way, all traffic both inbound and outbound is routed through your cable line, the same one that carries your cable TV service.  Modern cable wiring carries a lot of information, and adding Internet has no effect on the television service.  For this, no telephone is required at all.

A cable hookup is always connected.  You're always online.  It's extremely convenient, as though the Internet were actually a part of your computer.  And it's fast.  Actual speeds will vary depending on your cable company, but compared to dialup even the slowest is blindingly quick.

It's not quite utopia, however.  If your neighborhood has a lot of cable Internet connections, you could find the service slowing noticeably during periods of high use.  This is why we suggest you put off buying your own cable modem until you've lived with the service for a while.

Cable service is available only from your local cable company, and you have no choice of ISP's.  In most cases, a cable company representative must do the installation, and your cable company may have different rates for business and residential customers.

DSL

If your local phone wiring is adequate, DSL may be a better choice.  There are some fairly stringent requirements with regard to your location with respect to phone switching stations and the type of wiring installed.  Unlike cable, DSL is available from ISP's other than your local company.  Just as you can choose among Earthlink, AOL, MSN, or any number of other dialup services, there is a variety of companies that can deliver DSL over your phone lines (if those lines are adequate).

It's important to understand that although DSL uses your existing phone line, it does not "tie it up" while you're online.  You can surf the web while talking to Aunt Hattie or sending a fax, and receive phone calls while online without disrupting your connection.

This is made possible by cooperation between your DSL modem and your phone company's equipment, and is also why DSL is not available in all areas.

Because the DSL environment is more competitive than cable, it pays to do some shopping to determine what's available.  Like cable, some ISP's have different rates for business customers, and different rules for usage.  Most online providers have an install it yourself option, which is not as difficult as it may seem, and some will also have a local contractor make the installation for you.

Either way, the process takes some time (up to several weeks) to accomplish between ordering the service and getting connected to it.

Can I get broadband at my location?

Check with your local cable company to find out whether two way broadband service is available in your location.  Alternatively, you can conduct a free test to determine whether DSL is an option for you at the link below: 

Find out more at Verizon Online DSL

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