Electronic Design

In A World Of Many Options, There's A Case For DSLine

Well, I finally did it. I abandoned my soul-deadening commute from Long Island to New Jersey. But after only a few weeks of telecommuting bliss, I was getting increasingly frustrated, to the extent that I'd have to periodically leave my office to calm down. The cause was my dialup Internet access. My 33.3-kbit/s laptop's modem only connected at 24 kbits/s. Between press releases, PowerPoint presentations, graphics, and .pdf files, I spent half my day downloading e-mail and crawling through web sites. That was if I could get a connection in the first place. One in three tries would fail. All the while, deadlines loomed.

For a long time, I'd been entertaining the thought of getting DSL service. The final straw came when my sister sent eight new-baby photos over to my work address. Two hours and a missed deadline later, the download was complete.

Last weekend, I visited Cablevision's Optimum OnLine booth at a local show, where I played with their 10-Mbit/s cable service. It was sheer joy. But cable's neighborhood-bottleneck syndrome worried me. Plus, I'll probably dump cable altogether by year's end in favor of satellite TV.

This option is even more attractive now that local programming can be carried. In addition, two-way satellite data feeds will be possible by late fall. This will make the upstream phone-line connection redundant, and convert satellite into a one-stop communications shop. But I needed instant web and e-mail access right away. DSL was my only option.

My first stop was www.dslprime.com. There, I found that my distance from the central office (CO) is 14,000 ft. I also learned about available services and got links to their ratings. Price and availability narrowed my options down to Flashcom and InternetConnect. Both use Covad and Northpoint.

Because of my long distance from the CO, I didn't qualify for the 768-kbit/128-kbit downstream/upstream connection I wanted. While InternetConnect stuck by its 160-kbit downstream ADSL rate for $89, Flashcom was all over the map. It promised anywhere from 144 × 144 SDSL up to 605 × 208 ADSL for $49.95. The fact is, at 14,000 ft., no one can tell the maximum possible data rate until the lines are actually tested. But at $49.95, it's worth taking a chance.

Both providers offered a two-year contract with free installation and modem. With the rate of change in this industry, a two-year contract seemed constraining. I took the one-year option but had to purchase the $249 modem. With the rebate, that dropped to $49.

I tested both services' help lines to compare them to the sales lines. When there was no response in 15 minutes, I hung up. I've heard this can happen to most DSL providers in these gold-rush days, so I wasn't surprised. Nor was I surprised when I was told that the service could take four to six weeks to activate.

DSL is becoming somewhat of a victim of its own success. But I'm happy to wait and salivate. Even if the rate isn't what I expect, I'll be a lot happier. Research has proven that the biggest impact of these new broadband services comes not from a faster connection, but from an always-on connection. It has completely changed how users view and use their computers, catapulting them from the office or den into the center of the home.

That's what I'm counting on as I go grey by my office window. I'm waiting for my modem to make its connection with an ISP, a process that seems increasingly antiquated as the weeks pass. By the time you read this, you'll be able to send me your baby pictures, or any other pictures for that matter, at [email protected].

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