CeePrompt! Computer Connection

Originally published Monday, November 1, 1999

Information highway meets life in fast lane

If you're feeling the need for speed, you're in luck if it's your Internet connection that needs a turbo boost. MediaOne began offering Road Runner Internet service Aug. 30 and has 40,000 homes in our area cable-ready for Internet connectivity at speeds up to 50 times faster than the standard dial-up connection. By the end of the year, MediaOne hopes to have 70,000 homes Internet-ready, including Manteca, according to Mary Bava, public relations director for MediaOne locally. To date, 400 cable customers in the Stockton area are receiving cable Internet service.

With cable, users have yet another alternative to standard 56Kbps modems and another option for truly high-speed connectivity. Earlier this year, DSL, or digital subscriber line, became available through Pacific Bell and InReach Internet for personal use.

DSL connections use regular, copper phone lines to deliver high-speed service directly to your home. Cable service requires the installation of a network card in your computer that connects via an Ethernet cable to a cable modem, which in turn connects directly to your cable line. Both cable and DSL service are always on, so neither requires any dial-up or log-on process.

With all connections, bandwidth speed will vary throughout the day, depending on how many users are riding the Internet freeways, but in general, connection speeds break down as follows: A standard 56.6 telephone modem connects at 44-48Kbps, if you're lucky. DSL service can connect at 384Kbps or 768Kbps, depending on the service you order. Higher speeds are available but cost considerably more on a monthly basis. Cable modems can achieve speeds as high as 1.5Mbps, twice that of the high-speed DSL line, but bandwidth is shared with other users, so connectivity speeds may fluctuate.

Road Runner is the ISP that connects MediaOne cable subscribers to the Internet and is jointly owned by Time-Warner and MediaOne. If you call MediaOne locally to sign up for Internet service, you'll actually be connected to Los Angeles for order processing and installation scheduling. Both cable and DSL services are still somewhat limited, however, in our area. To use DSL, you must live within three miles of the company's central station, which left me out. Cable doesn't have such restrictions but is still available only in certain geographic areas, mine not being one of them.

Since central Stockton is apparently in the boondocks when it comes to high-speed Internet connectivity, I visited a friend to check out the screaming cable modem firsthand. When it was fast, it was very fast and approximated T1 speeds, but it fluctuated considerably and at times seemed as slow as a 28.8 modem during high-traffic hours. During off-peak times, Web pages loaded instantaneously, and the speeds were more consistent.

When the service seemed unbearably slow, two calls to Road Runner tech support finally cleared a problem concerning the dynamic IP addressing system that cable modems use. An IP address is the unique address of your computer when it's connected to the Internet. The support tech acknowledged that most help calls involve this addressing system but stressed that it's a new technology that's improving daily.

Cable Internet service costs $39.95 a month, and the usual $99 installation fee is being waived during this early rollout period. A network card costs an additional $49 if you don't already have one. While this may seem higher than your current service, remember you no longer need a second phone line for a dedicated Internet connection. DSL monthly rates start at $49 a month and vary depending on the bandwidth that you choose, and installation rates also vary.

Visit the MediaOne/Road Runner Web site for more information on cable Internet service at www.mediaonerr.com/

For information on DSL service, visit the InReach Web site at http://www.inreach.com/personal/%20p-dsl.html or check out PacBell's site, www.pacbell.com/

Expect our cable marketplace to become even more interesting and competitive in the Internet and telephone spheres when AT&T takes over MediaOne after the first of the year.

Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company, Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached by e-mail at cschuler@uop.edu or cschuler@ceeprompt.com or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.

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