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BlueWolf's Howl

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May 09, 2002

Information Autobahn

In these times of modern technology, advertisements for high speed Internet access are constantly around us. Flashy commercials entice us to call today and join in on the fun of the online community. But for many, the path to the Internet is lined with disappointments, obstacles and hidden costs.

One condo owner was told that the original builder of the complex struck a deal with the phone company for exclusive access to the building, so cable access was unavailable. A prospective renter is assured that the management office has an offer on the table with the local cable company, but it will be a few months before an agreement can be reached. Yet, through our jobs we become accustomed to faster and faster Internet response times - only to come home to archaic 56K dial-up access.

For those lucky enough to be in a serviced area, the path is still not smooth. The main avenues of high-speed access are DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) and cable. Some DSL and cable modems have USB (Universal Serial Bus) connections, however most require a 10 BASE-T NIC (Network Interface Card). For those who own older computers, a NIC or USB port would have to be installed. Many computer owners cannot do this themselves, so this means a trip to the local computer shop or paying additional installation fees.

Cable and DSL modems are advertised in a range of stores from Circuit City to Wal-Mart. However, it is not advantageous for the average person to purchase a cable modem. The type of modem selected would need to be compatible with the service provider's network. As the technology develops, you would be required to upgrade your equipment to maintain your connection. If you rent the equipment, you can be assured that any network upgrades would be matched with similar modem upgrades to maintain compatibility.

Cable installation usually involves a technician's visit to your home. This is to the credit of the cable company, since you will be assured that any problems encountered can be resolved. This is not altruism, but good business sense. If the customer needs a NIC, the technician can install it (for an additional fee). If the customer needs a cable modem, the tech can provide it (with a monthly rental charge). It may cost you more, but when the technician leaves, you are online and the cable company has a satisfied customer.

DSL installation does not necessitate a visit to your home unless you specifically request assistance. A kit arrives in the mail and the phone company activates the service remotely. The kit will normally include a line splitter, modem, filters, software and an installation guide. If your computer already has the proper connector (USB port or NIC), the setup is quick and easy. You put the splitter into the wall jack, a filter on one side for the phone and connect the other port to the modem. Then you put a CAT-5 cable (patch cord) into the NIC and connect it to the modem. If all goes well, you are connected. If not, you will run the telephone tech support gauntlet until your problems are resolved.

With DSL, one of the often-overlooked sources of trouble involves premises wiring (the phone lines in your house). The existence of a wall jack does not prove the existence of a connected phone line. To determine if the jack is properly connected, plug in a spare phone and listen for a dial tone. If you get a dial tone and you only have one line, it's properly connected. If you don't hear a dial tone, you'll have to troubleshoot the problem or contact the phone company (they will charge you for this assistance). An overzealous painter can easily disable your jack with a coat of fresh paint. Replacement jacks can be found at any hardware store for a minimal cost. Remember to connect both wires to each color-coded terminal and you should have a dial tone again.

To learn more about DSL see:

To learn more about cable Internet access see:

Posted by BlueWolf on May 9, 2002 10:40 PM