The Joys of Broadband Access

October 2002

Fulbright. That was the word I couldn't remember. Maybe that's happened to you. I needed that word at a particular moment, but my brain wouldn't respond.

And without thinking I went to Google and typed in "Europe teach fellowship." Among the results was something about Fulbright fellowships. Eureka. That was the word. If you've had this experience, you know what a relief it is to finally have the missing word back in your brain.

This happens more often than I care to admit. But now that I have DSL, it's not such a problem. DSL is a way of connecting your computer directly to the Internet without first having to dial up or log in.

If I would have had to dial up the Internet to let Google help me remember my word, I wouldn't have bothered. But because I have DSL and am always connected to the Internet, I often use Google for these types of tasks.

I love DSL.

Hey, it just happened again. I couldn't' remember what "DSL" stood for. In Google I typed in "DSL abbreviation" and right there among the first results was "DSL An abbreviation for Digital Subscriber Line."

And DSL is fast. Files typically download about 10 times faster.

DSL typically shares the same line that you use for your telephone but is carried on a different frequency than voice. You can use your telephone and your DSL at the same time.

Many communities in eastern Iowa now have DSL available. The cost ranges from about $35 to $70 per month. Plus, you usually have an up-front cost for connection or to purchase a special DSL modem, which could be around $200.

But think about it. You may already be paying $14-20 per month for dialup Internet access. And some people also pay for a second phone line because they don't want their Internet surfing to tie up their regular phone line. In this case, the DSL doesn't really cost any more.

Companies in eastern Iowa offering DSL include Lisco and Iowa Telecom, with prices ranging from $35 to $40 per month. While 256 kbps is the most common, 512 kbps is also available in the range of $40 per month.

Larger cities such as Iowa City typically have a wider range of choices. Qwest offers DSL in Iowa City, for example, via such resellers as Crossroads, which charges $38 per month for 256 kbps.

You can, of course, pay more money and get much higher speeds. But these options are mainly for businesses. Consumers generally opt for 256 or 512. When it comes to surfing the Internet, a faster speed than that doesn't usually do much good because the bottleneck is not your connection speed but the responsiveness of the web sites you're trying to access.

Note that even if a company in your area is offering DSL, you still may not be able to use their service because of your location. Factors include how distant you are from the service provider and whether the phone circuit you're on will accommodate it.

DSL is actually just one form of broadband access. "Broadband" is the generic term for high-speed Internet connections. Other options include access via TV cable and satellite.

Mediacom, which provides cable TV service to eastern Iowa, is planning to offer cable access to the Internet in the coming months. The speeds for consumer-level access are much faster: 1.5 megabits per second download time, which, by way of comparison, equates to 1,500 kbps, or three times faster than 512 kbps. The upload time is slower--128 kbps.

The cost for cable Internet access from Mediacom will be $41 per month if you already have cable TV, plus $5 per month to rent a cable modem. If you're not a subscriber, the cost is $56 per month, including modem rental.

Among the vendors of satellite access in the region is MGC Computers, which is based in Fairfield and sells Starband service. This may be one of the few options for those out of reach of DSL and cable.

This two-way satellite service doesn't require a phone line for uploading as older systems did and offers downloads of up to 500 kbps and upload rates in excess of 150 kbps. You can use the same satellite for access to satellite TV. The cost for Internet access is $70 a month, plus an up-front fee in the area of $400.

If you don't have broadband, you will soon. And then you, too, will easily recall words such as "Fulbright."

© 2002 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen