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How to get on the Internet

Internet Service for individuals is available in a wide variety of ways but by far most people today prefer a home connection and this is typically a paid by the month agreement with your local internet service providers (ISP). The technology for internet access is changing all the time.


Years ago many people used a "Dial-Up" method which just connected to the internet over your telephone lines. Even today, casual internet users pay as little as $9.95 per month to an ISP of their choice for access but data speeds are minimal and sometimes frustratingly slow. A modem in your computer translated digital information to sound which was carried over voice lines and then demodulated from sound back to digital. Data transmission speeds seemed fine in the beginning but as more and more data was sent around, such as images and music, there was more lag time. Dial-Up speeds could be about 56Kbps.

DSL and Cable. Which one should I choose?

For faster data speeds (and more cost) you can subscribe to high-speed internet service often called broadband. DSL means Digital Subscriber Line and is a service offered by the telephone company. So, like dial-up, DSL started out using your telephone lines.

"Cable" refers to internet service over coaxial cables as provided by your Cable TV company. The question of whether DSL or Cable is better will often come down to the local area you live in. Speeds are going to be very dependent on how close you live to your local DSL hub and whether or not your Cable provider has updated their connections with fiber optic technology. Also, currently, Verizon, ATT and Qwest are all moving away from DSL towards fiber optics.

In the area of download speeds, Cable beats DSL. Since 2008, Cable companies have started to upgrade their network with fiber optics, so in some areas they are far superior to DSL. Cable generally offers faster connection speeds.

Basic DSL Internet Speeds: 768 Kbps to 1.5 Mbps
High-End DSL Internet Speeds: 3 Mbps to 7 Mbps

Basic Cable Internet Speeds: 4 Mbps to 6 Mbps
High-End Cable Internet Speeds: 12 Mbps to 16 Mbps and higher

Your DSL connection is never shared between your location and the nearest DSL hub or central office. The bandwidth to your Cable Internet Service Provider is shared by you and all the other Internet users in your area using the same service. Cable providers insist that this won't affect your connection speeds, but many consumers complain that it does.

DSL has a slight advantage in being more secure

Another problem with having a shared Internet connection is they are considered to be less secure than having a dedicated connection, like you have with DSL. Shared mediums are more susceptible to eavesdropping, denial of service attacks, and service theft. The general consensus among Internet security experts is that DSL connections are typically more secure, though not by a lot.

Another area where Cable is the superior choice is in how connection speeds fall off with distance from your provider. With Cable, they don't fall off. The average Cable connection will be just as good if you are close to your ISP's hub or not. Cable has the advantage of not being distance sensitive. DSL is a very distance sensitive medium. DSL providers are only able to offer service to locations around 17,000 to 18,000 feet from a central office or DSL hub. In addition, the speeds will drop off quite a bit after 9,000 to 10,000 feet. This means that only locations that are close to a DSL hub can even get the top speeds of 3 Mbps to 7 Mbps. Users who live further than the drop-off point will only be able to get the basic DSL plans which offer speeds from 768 Kbps to 1.5 Mbps.

Cost is one area where DSL has a slight advantage. As of March 2009, DSL prices are ranging from about $20/mo. up to $45/mo. for the highest speeds. Cable plans will typically run from $40/mo. to $55/mo., and most Cable providers don't have an option for paying less for lower speeds (except Cox).

DSL costs less on a monthly basis in most cases. You'll often see Cable Internet service advertised starting at $19.95 per month, but that price will last for only a short time -- typically the first three to six months. After that, the cost will go up to the normal monthly rate. If price isn't a big concern, then Cable is going to be the better choice simply for the higher download speeds. For those looking to save money on monthly bills, DSL provides the more affordable solution. You can generally get DSL for only $19.95 per month with speeds from 768 Kbps up to 1.0 Mbps, depending upon your provider. That speed is usually enough to satisfy a casual Internet user who doesn't want to pay high costs for Internet access.

Unlike Dial-Up, DSL and Cable Internet access involve adding hardware devices into your home such as a Cable Modem, router or other devices.

Fiber Optics and Wireless Internet

Verizon, ATT and Qwest have all begun the move to fiber optics, which is a much faster than DSL. The entry level plans have 15 Mbps download speeds, and even higher if you are willing to pay more.

Another service is WiMax. This is a new service being pushed by major companies, including Sprint, Clearwire, Verizon and others. Essentially, you might soon have a third major choice for home Internet access in the form of WiMax. You can also use the service from your mobile phone or laptop as long as you are in the service area. Speeds are estimated to be up to 7 Mbps.

For Internet users who want to save money or use it casually, DSL is probably the choice for you. You will be able to use the Internet at good speeds without paying a lot. However, Cable is going to be the service of choice for anyone who wants the fastest possible speeds. If you are going to download large files, stream media, and cost is not a concern, then "Cable" is best.

Verizon FIOS
Verizon's high-speed fiber to the premises (FTTP) network.

Called Fios, Verizon's FTTP venture promises to provide its customers with the kind of bandwidth only dreamed of in the USA. Currently available in a handful of markets across the US, including Virginia, Texas, and Florida. Fios offers speeds of 15Mbps/2Mbps for US$49.95 per month, and if you don't think you need 15Mbps of bandwidth, there's a cheaper 5Mbps/2Mbps option available for US$34.95. In addition, Verizon is competing with the cable giants with an 180-channel TV package for another US$34.95 per month.

About 3.5Gbps of the network's capacity will be allocated for downstream video. That leaves 620Mbps of bandwidth for 'Net traffic, which is split up between the 32 users on each Broadband Passive Optical Network node. Once Verizon switches to Gigabit PON, that number will rise to 2.4Gbps. Video on demand will be delivered via IPTV.

While Verizon has been busy deploying its FiOS fiber-to-the-premises network, Cable customers with slower Internet connections have been wondering when they will get faster speeds. For cable customers, help is on the way in the form of DOCSIS 3.0, which will bump speeds to 160Mbps down and 120Mbps up. But will DOCSIS be a competitor with fiber? Not in the long run.

FiOS currently offers 622Mbps down and 155Mbps upstream speeds, with that bandwidth divvied up among up to 32 homes. That's almost four times faster than DOCSIS 3.0 (which is also shared among multiple dwellings), and the news for "cable" gets worse: FiOS has the potential of getting even faster.

With the introduction of DOCSIS 3.0, cable operators will be able to deliver far greater speeds to customers than they do today. But, due to the basic bandwidth gap, they still won't be able to offer the same potential speeds as FiOS.

Most cable Internet service is currently delivered via DOCSIS 1.1., which offers speeds of up to 36Mbps down and 10Mbps up. DOCSIS 2.0b was ratified a couple of years ago, but cable operators decided not to deploy it, choosing instead to wait for DOCSIS 3.0 to roll down the pike. Devices supporting DOCSIS 3.0 began shipping in 2007, but most analysts believe that the technology won't begin to take off until 2010 or 2011. Even then, only 40 percent of customer premises equipment (e.g., modems) will support DOCSIS 3.0 by 2011.

In the meantime, Verizon is chugging full speed ahead with its FiOS rollout. The telecom reported that it added 147,000 FiOS customers during the third quarter of 2006 and that the service itself is available to over 5.3 million homes in 16 states. Verizon says it is on track to meet its annual goal of reaching 3 million new homes with FiOS every year; by the time DOCSIS 3.0 rolls around, FiOS should have a big head start.

Is there any hope for "cable"? There is always the potential for technological advances, even with "dated" infrastructure such as coaxial cable. HPNA, a home networking technology that uses coax, saw a speed bump from 128Mbps to 320Mbps. In the near term, however, fiber looks to have a leg up on cable when it comes to bandwidth.

The future of Internet access over Coaxial Cable
DOCSIS 3.0 for cable modem users.

The new version of DOCSIS (Data-Over-Cable Service Interface Specifications) will allow for physical layer speeds of 160Mbps downstream and 120 Mbps up. DOCSIS 3.0 achieves its speed in part through "channel bonding" (using more than one channel to transmit data) for both up- and downstream transmission. It also supports IPv6 in order to provide billions of additional IP addresses to support the growing number of portable devices that connect to the Internet (consoles, cell phones, media players, etc.). But when will it arrive in your neighborhood?

DOCSIS 3.0 equipment is far along in development. The first shipments of the new devices went out in 2007. The Cable Modem Termination Systems (CMTS), the headend equipment that the cable company needs to install, is coming along but on the consumer side, cable modems and cable boxes must also be upgraded to support the new specification. Only 40 percent of this Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) is expected to support DOCSIS 3.0 by 2011.

Competition from Verizon's fibre-optic FiOS network has prompted CableLabs, the non-profit research and development consortium founded in 1988 by members of the cable television industry, to release a new set of specifications for future cable Internet providers. The Data-Over-Cable Service Interface Specifications (or DOCSIS) have reached version 3.0, and lay out the groundwork for an increase in both upstream and downstream bandwidth.

The new specifications call for downstream data rates of 160 Mbps (20 MBps) or higher, and upstream rates of 120 Mbps (15 MBps) or higher. They also include support for the new Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) which allows a significant increase in the number of possible IP addresses. In comparison, the current standard (DOCSIS 2.0) delivers up to 40 Mbps downstream and 30 Mbps upstream.

While the DOCSIS 3.0 specifications sound great, it may be some time before your local cable provider gets around to implementing them.

DSL losing ground to Verizon FiOS, AT&T U-Verse

Major US telephone companies have sunk billions into boosting or bypassing DSL by laying plenty of fiber. The expensive strategy is showing good early results as both AT&T and Verizon chalked up big gains in their U-verse and FiOS offerings even as DSL contracted.

In the USA, DSL has been falling behind cable and fiber Internet links for some time and now lopes along slowly at the back of the speed pack. But two of the country's biggest DSL providers, Verizon and AT&T, have found that their efforts to move beyond simple DSL offerings are now generating excellent growth. Verizon's expensive fiber-to-the-home network added 298,000 new Internet customers, excellent growth considering that FiOS has only 2.8 million Internet customers in total. FiOS now has 55.5 percent more subscribers than it did a year ago, and it currently passes more than 9 million US homes.

AT&T's U-verse system added nearly the same number of customers (284,000), which brings the fiber-to-the-node system up to 1.3 million subscribers. That means AT&T is adding customers twice as fast as it did in the first quarter of 2008.

Each service offers higher speeds than traditional DSL. Even though AT&T uses DSL tech for its last-mile U-verse connections, only U-verse subscribers can sign up for the "up to" 18Mbps data tier. FiOS offers 50Mbps connections, with the possibility of going far higher in future.

But what really makes the services competitive with cable "triple play" offerings (phone, TV, Internet) is the fact that both telcos now offer TV service of their own. Subscribers to cable, FiOS, and U-verse no longer have any need for a second data link to the outside world.

Traditional DSL, already targeting the "value" segment of the Internet access market, continues to lose ground. Verizon lost 46,000 DSL customers in the first quarter. AT&T gained 471,000 net broadband subscribers, but these numbers include both the 284,000 U-verse additions and the company's wireless 3G laptop cards.

While DSL and cable are still roughly tied for subscribers in the USA, cable has been growing much faster. In the middle of 2008, cable was adding three new subscribers for every one DSL picked up, and big players like AT&T and Verizon are pinning their hopes on services like U-verse and FiOS.


AT&T U-verse is a group of Internet Protocol (IP)-based products and services, including Television, High Speed Internet, and Voice telephone that has been growing since 2006 and is available in many, but not all major U.S. cities. U-verse utilizes both fiber-to-the-node and fiber-to-the-point technology to obtain speeds up to 25 Mbit/s to the user's home. AT&T hopes to leapfrog cable TV systems by offering features like a DVR that can record up to 4 shows at a time and is programmable from any web-connected computer.

Television is delivered over IP from the head end to the consumer's set-top box. U-verse uses H.264 (MPEG-4 AVC) encoding which compresses video more efficiently than the traditional MPEG-2. The set-top box does not have a conventional tuner, but is an IP multicast client which joins the IP multicast group corresponding to the stream ("channel") desired. In the IP multicast model, only the streams the customer uses are sent. The customer's connection need not have the capacity to carry all available channels simultaneously.

The customer's premises are served primarily by VDSL from large fiber fed neighborhood boxes, known as VRADs. Copper cables run from these boxes to the home. In newer housing developments, U-verse may also be deployed over fiber to the premises (FTTP) or all fiber optic connections all the way to the home. The network was designed for speeds of 20-25 megabits downstream, 1 to 3 megabits upstream, with the majority of the bandwidth devoted to the TV programming.

Cable providers

Time Warner (Spectrum) Cable Internet

Road Runner High Speed Online, the super-fast Internet service from Time Warner Cable, lets you surf the Web at speeds much faster than DSL. As of 2009, Time Warner is the second largest provider of high speed cable Internet in the United States, with approximately 13 million broadband subscribers.

With Road Runner Internet, you pay month to month with no long-term contracts to sign. Cable Internet connection speeds are now up to 6 Mbps downstream. That's over three times the speed of most standard DSL packages and up to 100 times faster than dial-up Internet service!

* Cable Modem and router.
* Free account activation and free installation when you sign up online.
* Dedicated 24/7 Customer Service, including chat, email and phone support.
* The service is "Always On", so you never need to dial in or click to connect.
* Multiple email accounts plus personal web space for your home page.

Spectrum Cable provides Internet service in 27 states. Download speeds of any cable modem provider will always vary depending upon location and other factors.

Comcast Cable Internet

Comcast is America's largest cable Internet provider, providing service to millions of cable customers in almost every state. In addition to a blazing fast Internet connection, Comcast packs every account with plenty of features, including:

* Fast Download Speeds - Up to 6.0 Mbps downloads - over 100X faster than dialup!
* PowerBoost? - Enhanced connection with download speeds of up to 12.0 Mbps!
* Always-on Connection - When you turn your computer on, you're connected.
* Multiple Email Accounts - Extra email addresses for additional family members.
* Free Multimedia Package - Enjoy great digital music and digital video downloads.
* 24/7 Customer Support - Award-winning support team that's always available.

If you are thinking about using Comcast as your Internet service provider, then you might want to consider the Triple Play bundle. This allows you to get high speed Internet, digital cable television, and digital voice in one convenient package.

The average speeds of a cable Internet connection are between 4 to 6 Mbps. In many areas where Comcast has enhanced their service with PowerBoost?, speeds between 12 to 16 Mbps are possible. In some cities, Comcast is rolling out a service called "wideband" which promises up to 50 Mbps download speeds. Check with Comcast directly to find out what speeds are available in your area.

Charter High Speed Internet

Charter Communications is the 3rd largest cable operator in the U.S., offering broadband Internet access, digital cable television, and Internet phone services in 29 states.

As with most cable providers, Charter offers a special, money-saving triple-play package. This includes Internet access, broadband cable TV, and digital phone service.

While all of Charter's cable Internet plans are quite fast compared to dialup or DSL, the speeds available to you will depend upon your location. In the fastest areas, Charter is able to offer a connection with up to 16 Mbps download speeds. There are three plans to choose from and you can easily upgrade to one of the faster plans.

* Charter High-Speed? - With download speeds reaching up to 5 Mbps.
* Charter High-Speed? Plus - Upgrade to speeds of up to 10 Mbps.
* Charter High-Speed? Max - The fastest plan reaching up to 16 Mbps.
* Security Features include anti-virus, anti-spam, and parental controls.
* 24/7 Customer Service for round-the-clock support whenever you need it.
* Wireless Home Networking is optional for connecting up to 5 users.

Charter also provides 10 email addresses with each account, and plenty of web space for your own website. Currently, customers that sign up online can receive a free Motorola modem and a $50 cash back rebate. When you sign up for Charter's triple-play bundle, you can get the lowest prices for each service and even more cash back.

DSL Providers

AT&T High Speed Internet

Enjoy high speed residential DSL Internet service from AT&T, available anywhere that AT&T provides customers with phone service - and BellSouth is now a part of AT&T.

With AT&T DSL, you'll have dedicated Internet access at speeds much faster than dialup. There is no contract required to sign up and start enjoying a faster Internet.

AT&T High Speed Internet is available in 22 states at download speeds starting at 768 Kbps. For those who want more speed, you can choose from three more advanced DSL packages with faster downloads speeds (all the way up to 6.0 Mbps!).

AT&T DSL allows you to get more of what you want from the Web. With this high speed broadband Internet service, you get all of the following:

* Personalized Homepage - Customize your homepage for all of your online tasks.
* Customized Browser - Designed to take full advantage of your fast connection.
* Email - Set up 11 personalized sub accounts and access your mailbox online.
* Instant Messenger - Send text messages to keep in touch with friends and family.
* Parental Controls - Tailor each child's Internet experience easily and reliably.
* Premium Content - Use custom finance content, and get news, sports and more!
* Photo Storage - You get tons of storage space so you can share pictures online.
* Security Software - Protect your information from viruses, spam and hackers.

For a price comparable to most dial-up Internet services, you can be surfing the Web at speeds from 10 to 80 times faster than a normal dial-up connection.

How AT&T DSL Service Differs From Other Providers

All DSL Internet services deliver high-speed Internet access through your existing phone line, but with AT&T DSL service you get many personalized features designed to maximize your broadband experience. Also keep in mind that AT&T is currently updating its network with fiber optics, so AT&T customers can look forward to faster speeds to come.


Internet ServiceSpeedTechnologyFuture
Dial-UpSlowestCopper twisted pairvery limited
DSLFasterCopper twisted pairsomewhat limited
CableFaster plusCoaxial Cablesome potential
Fios and U-Verse fiberFastestOptical Fibermost potential