Personal Computing: The Need for Speed on the Internet

Personal Computing: The Need for Speed on the Internet

By Reid Goldsborough

Virtually everybody wants faster Internet access. Web sites laden with graphics and other special effects can slow even a screaming new PC down to a crawl.

The problem is a short supply of “bandwidth.” Most business and home users are limited by the amount of data that conventional phone lines and modems can transmit. The solution is “broadband” services that pump up your Internet connection.

I`ve been using the @Home cable Internet service (http://www.home.net), available from Comcast, TCI and Cox in the United States and Canada, and it makes connecting to most Web sites almost as fast as using programs that reside on your computer`s hard disk or your company`s network fileserver. Download speeds typically range from 1.5 to 3 megabits (million bits) per second, which is up to 65 times faster than today`s speediest conventional modems.

Cable Internet access typically costs about twice the $19.95 per month fee of conventional Internet access.

Along with cable Internet service provided by cable TV companies, the other major technology battling over the digital future is digital subscriber line (DSL) service provided by telephone companies. Pacific Bell`s DSL service (http://www.pacbell.com/ products/business/fastrak/dsl) provides download speeds of up to 1.5 megabits per second and costs $660 for the modem, $125 for signup and $219 per month for access.

With both cable and DSL there`s a caveat–the slow pace of the rollout of these services. Most people simply don`t have access and won`t for some time to come.

For some business and home users, a number of enterprising companies are jumping in to meet this unsatisfied demand. Philadelphia-based LTA Communications (215-567-0174), for instance, is busily connecting local office buildings and apartment houses to the Internet.

Working with an apartment-house manager or a business owner, LTA first runs a “T1” line to the building, said John Possumato, the company`s executive vice president. This is the same dedicated high-capacity phone line that many larger businesses lease for around $1,500 a month.

The innovation comes in when the company then uses cable or DSL modems within the building to connect individual users to the T1 line. This can bring the cost down to $300 to $900 per month for a small or medium-size business or $40 to $100 per month for individuals in an apartment complex.

In both commercial and residential settings, users typically obtain download speeds of one megabit per second and higher, said Possumato.

People living in single-family homes have other options besides waiting for their cable and phone companies. The most viable alternative today is satellite access, provided by companies such as Hughes Network Systems (800-DIRECPC, http://www.direcpc.com).

Hughes` service, called DirecPC, is available in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe and Northern Asia. You download Web, newsgroup, e-mail and other data from its satellite using a 21-inch satellite dish and upload data using a conventional modem and phone line. Download speeds are typically around 400 kilobits (thousand bits) per second.

DirecPC works only with Pentium-class PCs equipped with at least 32 megabytes of memory that are running Windows 95, Windows 98, or Windows NT 4.0. If you have a Macintosh computer, you can use DirecPC only if the Mac is connected to a PC network.

You also need a clear line of sight south from your home or office to the Hughes satellite itself, which is in geostationary orbit around the equator. You can call Hughes` installation specialists at 800-886-4947 if you have questions about the suitability of your location.

Hughes recently revamped the pricing of its service. The satellite dish and receiver cost about $200 after rebates and there`s a one-time activation fee of $49.95. Up to 25 hours a month of access costs $29.99, up to 100 hours $49.99. If you use DirecPC in a business setting, the cost is $129.99 per month for up to 200 hours, and you receive four e-mail accounts instead of one.

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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