Broadband Usage on the Rise

Monday, January 28th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Most of us connect to the Internet through a dial-up modem, and most of us whine and complain that the connection is often slow and cranky.

Never mind that today's ordinary modems are a hundred times faster than the 300-bits-per-second ancestors that crawled ashore from the late-'70s digital sea. We are an impatient lot, and that has led at least 11 million of us to give broadband a shot.

As a stroll though online chat areas will tell you, many users found broadband shooting right back. High-speed Internet access through cable, satellite or DSL (digital subscriber line) service often meant difficult installations, software glitches and service interruptions. In fact, writing about a year ago about my own easy and seamless connection to Verizon's DSL offering brought a torrent of mail suggesting mental problems.

Those initial bumps seem to be subsiding, and, as reported in the February issue of PC World, one analyst expects the number of broadband users to top 43 million by 2005. The magazine has a good review of the various services available and is worth the $6.95 cover price if you're considering an upgrade. In the meantime, some basic considerations:

First, monthly cost. Figure on $40 to $50 a month for DSL or cable, $70 for satellite service. You'll also pay for equipment required, and installation if you can't do it yourself. Those costs jump all over the lot between $50 and $200 and will vary enormously with promotions.

Download speed. Most providers offer download speed around 768 kilobits per second. That's 20-something times faster than ordinary dial-up modems. Some offer download speeds of 1.5 megabits per second. Upload speeds are generally 128 kbps, although there are some 256 kbps offerings. The difference is because, for most of us, net traffic is very lopsided: a few bits say ``send me the picture.'' The picture itself may take 3 million bits.

Except for satellite service, cable and DSL services aren't universally available. With DSL, distance from your telephone service provider's central office is a key, generally no more than 18,000 feet. Remember that cable is a shared service, so the more folks on line, the slower the connection. At this stage, that isn't going to be a major problem.

DSL service allows you to use the same line for both voice and data by providing filters that screen telephones from the data signals.

Satellite service requires a satellite dish installation, which can be either tricky or impossible, depending upon your location. The dish must have an unobstructed view of the right part of the sky, and finding the right elevation (tilt) and azimuth (pan) is probably too difficult for most of us. And heavy rain and snow storms can interfere with the signal.

Expect some minor installation hassles still, but most of us who overcome them can't imagine going back to a dial-up connection.

If you do get broadband, get personal firewall software that helps prevent snoopers from prowling around your machine, since the Internet connection is always on.