The (not so) Wonderful World of High-Speed Internet Access

Discover the joys of using the new technology of DSL and cable modems to make your link to the world.
The G.lite Standard

It has been more than a year since the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) voted in favor of making G.lite ADSL (or ADSL Lite) standard (www.pcworld.com/pcwtoday/article/0,1510,8546,00.html). This PC World article states, “The G.Lite modem standard, called G.992.2, uses a stripped-down version of asymmetric digital subscriber line.” The connection is a bit slower than full-rate ADSL, but, according to ADSL Forum (http://adsl.com/), “the full-rate standard is more costly and problematic. Installation requires the phone company to come out and install a splitter on your phone line.” With the G.lite modem, this feature is installed into the modem, leaving only the installation of the modem to the customer. This keeps costs down for both customers and telcos, which is why many in the industry expect the G.lite modem to prosper.

And Then There was Cable

Cable is currently more popular and more readily available than DSL service. Currently, cable modem services are capable of reaching nearly 52 percent of U.S. households, compared to just 23 percent for telephone companies (John Borland, CNET News.com, 1/13/00). This trend is expected to continue for a few years, but by 2003, twice as many DSL installations as cable are forecast. The cited reason is phone lines are more available, especially in business districts (“Cable vs. DSL”, Seattle Times, May 2, 1999). There are those who would disagree, believing cable's current market position will only increase. AOL's recent acquisition of Time Warner could be evidence enough to support such claims. With access to Time Warner's cable lines, many believe AOL will place a higher priority on cable than DSL. Regardless, phone lines reach further into rural areas, and currently provide a more consistent service in higher-populated areas.

Cable service is supposed to be faster than DSL (by up to 10MBps), but since users are clumped together in hubs, speed can be greatly affected as the number of users rises. The cost of cable is slightly lower, as are installation fees. Prices for TCI's @Home cable Internet service is currently $39.95 per month, with a $150 installation fee. However, you do not have the option of choosing an ISP—that is part of the package, and not surprisingly has led to a few lawsuits. The basics are that smaller ISPs want access to cable lines, and the larger companies don't want to give it. As it stands now, AT&T has one ISP it uses—Excite@Home. Another ISP wanting to use AT&T lines would be charged for using those lines, which would mean the customer cost would go up accordingly.

I should note that I could find no indication that the TCI cable service supports Linux, while all those involved in my potential DSL plan do. And the TCI@Home web site says it “is for residential, casual use only and does not support servers.”

Jockeying for Position

Bringing costs down will have to become a major priority for both cable companies and the telcos. In an interesting move, on December 6 AT&T decided to offer the lines to competitors, although terms are not yet clear. What is clear is that many are fighting for entry into what promises to be a lucrative industry. A few ISP's are attempting to offer free DSL service by as early as March 15. Broadband Digital Group (a southern California company), iNYC (New York) and Staruni (Beverly Hills) are currently working to do just that (John Borland, CNET News.com, 1/13/00). The ISPs will collect demographic information by requiring users to click on a certain number of banner ads daily. They will then, no doubt, turn around and sell their findings to advertisers, who will complete the circle with more banner ads. Analysts are skeptical of this plan, since the cost of providing high-speed Internet access will still be high.

The FCC to the Rescue?

Covad extends DSL coverage but has to buy lines from US West, resulting in an extra $20 to $30 charge per month. Basically, I am forced to split my phone line into two lines (which is exactly what I had hoped to avoid) and am being charged accordingly. This situation may soon change. An article in ZDNet, “FCC Mandates Line Sharing” from November 18th, 1999, states, “The Federal Communications Commission today ruled that regional telephone companies must share local-loop lines with Digital Subscriber Line competitors.” Of course, the telcos are less than happy about this, as they are reluctant to undercut their current T1 services. Regardless, it seems the result will be cheaper DSL subscriptions, which should ensure the propagation of DSL technology. The mandate will be challenged, and people like me will just have to deal with inflated prices until the legal wrestling is finished.

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