The Gold Rush of 1999 has begun. Unlike the California Gold Rush of a century and a half ago, this one
is for the rich surfing experience made possible by high-speed modems.
It’s also a race for the wallets and pocketbooks of consumers-both individuals and businesses-who
have been complaining about the World Wide Wait and are willing to put their money where their mouths
Both high-speed or broadband Internet service cost a premium over the $15 to $20 per month that
conventional service typically costs. But there’s good news here. With the increasing availability of
digital subscriber line (DSL) Internet connections from telecommunications companies, cable modem
companies now have real competition. This should put pressure on both industries to keep prices low.
Each industry has a poor reputation regarding pricing. Cable companies, without meaningful
competition, have routinely jacked prices up for cable TV services well beyond the rate of inflation.
And phone companies could already have owned the broadband market had they priced earlier ISDN
services affordably and not been afraid of cannibalizing their lucrative T1 and similar business-class
The reluctance to forgo fat profit margins to grow its customer base was ultimately what did in
CompuServe, once the leading online service and now just a faltering bit player owned by America
Online. This may eventually do in some of the old-guard telecom giants as well. Already the Baby Bells
are facing stiff competition from small and nimble newcomers offering broadband Internet services.
The Other Competitors
Wired Business, at http://www.wiredbusiness.com, is one such competitor. Headquartered in
Philadelphia, it specializes in providing DSL Internet services to small- and medium-sized businesses
in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other major cities throughout the country.
The company offers business-quality DSL connections ranging from 144 kilobits per second to 1.5
megabits per second, roughly 3 to 35 times faster than conventional modems. Prices for connecting a
network of up to 30 computers typically range from $140 to $450 per month.
The above prices are for symmetrical DSL (SDSL) which-unlike asymmetrical DSL (ASDL)-offers the
same upstream as downstream speed and is thus more appropriate for Web hosting, videoconferencing,
online backups, and sending large files in general. The company also offers ADSL to residences
starting at $60 per month.
Wired Business is just one of numerous smaller companies now offering DSL services. You can find
out about others at the Websites of DSL wholesalers Covad, at http://www.covad.com, and NorthPoint, athttp://www.northpointcom.com.
Phone Company Offerings
The regional Bell operating companies aren’t standing still, of course. SBC Communications, the
parent of Pacific Bell, Southwestern Bell, Nevada Bell, and SNET, has announced ambitious plans to
make DSL services more widely available throughout its service area, for example.
Pacific Bell, at http://www.pacbell.com, has two ASDL offerings. The first, 384
kilobits-per-second downstream by 128 kilobits-per-second upstream, costs $39 per month. The second,
1.5 megabits-per-second downstream by 384 kilobits-per-second upstream, costs $129 per month. The DSL
modem and a subscription to an Internet service provider cost extra.
DSL connections are typically stated as maximum speeds. Actual speeds are often less, depending on
your distance to the phone company’s nearest central switching office and other factors.
Though the increasing availability of DSL is causing the latest buzz, for home users, it’s hard to
beat cable Internet access for price/performance.
Excite@Home, at http://www.home.net, and Road Runner, at http://www.rr.com, are the largest
national cable Internet access providers. They partner with local cable TV companies to provide
service to customers. Price for access is around $40 per month for cable TV customers and $50 per
month for non-customers.
Cable downstream speeds typically range from 300 kilobits per second all the way up to 3 megabits
per second, though upstream speeds are sometimes limited to 128 kilobits per second. Cable modem users
share bandwidth with other users in their neighborhood, which doesn’t present significant security
risks for home users but can be a reason for businesses to opt for DSL.
The Availability Issue
Though chances are greater than ever that you’ll be able to get high-speed Internet service if you
want it, availability is still the thorn in the side of the broadband industry. Many providers offer
forms at their Websites that you can fill out, with your address or phone number, which will then
indicate whether service is available at your location.
And the Winner Is…
Who will be the victor in the high-speed Internet access battle? Though both are growing quickly,
cable has a two-year head start over DSL, and most analysts feel that cable will remain the more
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book “Straight Talk About the
Information Superhighway.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org orhttp://members.home.net/reidgold.
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