DSL vs. Cable: The Rush for High-Speed Internet Access

The Gold Rush of the new millennium has begun. Unlike the California Gold Rush of a century and a half ago, this rush is for the rich surfing experience made possible by high-speed modems.

It’s also a race for the wallets and pocketbooks of consumers-both individuals and businesses-who have been complaining about the World Wide Wait and are willing to put their money where their mouths are.

High-speed, or broadband, Internet service costs a premium over the $15 to $20 per month that conventional Internet access typically costs. But there’s good news here. With the increasing availability of digital subscriber line (DSL) Internet connections from telecommunications companies, cable modem companies now have real competition, which should put pressure on both industries to keep prices low.

Both the cable and telecommunications industries have poor reputations regarding pricing. Without meaningful competition, cable companies have routinely jacked up cable TV prices well beyond the rate of inflation. And phone companies could have owned the broadband market already had they priced earlier high-speed ISDN services affordably and not been afraid of cannibalizing their lucrative T1 and similar business-class services.

The reluctance to forgo fat profit margins to grow its customer base was ultimately what did in CompuServe, once the leading online service and now just a faltering bit player owned by America Online. This may eventually do in some of the old-guard telecom giants as well. Already the Baby Bells are facing stiff competition from small and nimble newcomers offering broadband Internet services.

Wired Business, at http://www.wiredbusiness. com, is one such company. Headquartered in Philadelphia, it specializes in providing DSL Internet services to small- and medium-sized businesses in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and other major cities throughout the country.

The company offers business-quality DSL connections ranging from 144 kilobits per second to 1.5 megabits per second, roughly three to 35 times faster than conventional modems. Prices for connecting a network of up to 30 computers typically range from $140 to $450 per month.

The above prices are for symmetrical DSL, or SDSL, which unlike asymmetrical DSL, or ADSL, offers the same upstream as downstream speed and is thus more appropriate for Web hosting, videoconferencing, online backups and sending large files. The company also offers ADSL to residences starting at $60 per month.

Wired Business is just one of numerous smaller companies now offering DSL services. You can find out about others at the Web sites of DSL wholesalers Covad, at http://www.covad.com, and NorthPoint, at http://www.northpointcom.com.

The regional Bell operating companies aren’t standing still, of course. SBC Communications, the parent of Pacific Bell, Southwestern Bell, Nevada Bell and SNET, has announced ambitious plans to make DSL services more widely available throughout its service area, for example. Pacific Bell, at http://www.pacbell.com, has two ADSL offerings.

DSL connections are typically stated as maximum speeds. Actual speeds are often less, depending on your distance to the phone company’s nearest central switching office and other factors.

Though the increasing availability of DSL is causing the latest buzz, for home users, it’s hard to beat cable Internet access for price and performance.

Excite@Home, at http://www.home.net, and Road Runner, at http://www.rr.com, are the largest national cable Internet access providers. They partner with local cable TV companies to provide service to customers. Price for access is about $40 per month for cable TV customers and $50 per month for non-customers.

Cable downstream speeds typically range from 300 kilobits per second all the way up to 3 megabits per second, though upstream speeds are sometimes limited to 128 kilobits per second. Cable modem users share bandwidth with other users in their neighborhood, which doesn’t present significant security risks for home users but can be a reason for businesses to opt for DSL.

Though chances are greater than ever that you’ll be able to get high-speed Internet service if you want it, availability is still the thorn in the side of the broadband industry. Many providers offer forms at their Web sites that you can fill out, with your address or phone number, which will then indicate whether service is available at your location.

Who will win the broadband battle? Though both are growing quickly, cable has a two-year head start on DSL, and most analysts feel that cable will remain the more popular choice.

Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book “Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway.” He can be reached at reidgold@netaxs.com or http:// members. home.net/reidgold.

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