The Promised Bandwidth

For consumers and small businesses, there's still hope for broadband technology

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The call for high-speed access to the Internet for homes and small offices is at an all-time high. And broadband service providers have ramped up sales efforts, offering attractive perks like lower monthly rates, free installation, and even free modems.

Despite the perks, Internet service providers and telecommunications companies have been coming up short in meeting consumer expectations, and broadband access remains unavailable to a good portion of the online population. Service providers’ inability to quickly roll out service nationwide is contributing to a slow adoption rate, despite analysts’ predictions of quick acceptance. Compounding the problem: customer horror stories about costly and time-consuming installation.

But according to eMarketer Inc.’s The Business of Broadband report, high-speed deployment will soon start to accelerate. By 2003, broadband access will have grown nearly sixfold to 32 million users. At year-end 1999, broadband Internet access accounted for 14.6% of all U.S. subscribers, or 5.3 million users.

Although cable modems have the lead over digital subscriber line (DSL) among residential users, that could soon change. DSL will be available to at least 70% of U.S. homes by 2004, reports the Pelorus Group, a Raritan, New Jersey-based market research firm. While cable modems will continue to be popular, DSL will make dramatic inroads in the broadband market, says Al Fross, Pelorus Group president.

The DSL Deal
DSL is an efficient, cost-effective technology that transmits voice and data over existing phone lines. Because traditional phone lines are used, there is no need to install costly wires or cables.

Using the copper wiring, DSL operates on frequencies. Currently, lower frequencies are used for voice, while the unused portions of the wiring, specifically the higher frequencies, are used for transmitting data. This also gives DSL its “always on” capability and lets you use both voice and data frequencies at the same time-so you can talk on the phone and check your e-mail without needing an extra phone line.

Service providers offer entry-level DSL at speeds of around 256Kbps (kilobits per second) and mid-range DSL at about 1.5 Mbps (megabits per second)-which is about the same as a T-1 line-and up to 7.1 Mbps at the high range. How quickly you access the Internet depends on how close you are to the central office. As the distance grows between your home (or office) and the central office, the signal weakens. Greater distance means less bandwidth, which is just one of the problems with DSL. Another is the “always on” feature, which makes users vulnerable to hackers.

So why the long wait for DSL? Local exchange carriers determine the deployment of DSL services. The process is slow, experts argue, because there are simply not enough trained technicians to handle the backlog (installation of DSL in rural areas is almost unheard of at this time).

Some telecos are offering free or reduced cost ($50) for a DSL modem. Expect to spend $100 to have the hardware installed and a flat rate ranging from $19.99 to $50 a month. Since pricing on DSL service varies depending on the service plan you choose

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