If you find that you do more waiting than work when you surf the Web, you may need to upgrade to a broadband Internet service provider (ISP). Broadband Internet access can deliver data transmission rates of up to 30 megabits per second (Mbps), an exponential increase over the typical 14.4 Kbps to 56 Kbps connections most of us are used to. (One kilobit [Kb] equals 1,000 bits, while one megabit equals 1 million bits.) As an added bonus, most broadband services can stay active 24 hours a day. Right now, high-speed access is limited, but the race is on to get broadband access to your doorstep as quickly as possible.
More than just offering faster speeds and constant connections, broadband services hold the key to an improved Internet experience. The increased bandwidth will unlock the door to a new level of data-rich applications and services, such as advanced online banking and investing, enhanced video conferencing, streaming audio and interactive gaming. "Broadband will alter the Internet landscape, changing customers’ use and experience of online resources," states Christopher Mines, director of the People & Technology Strategies service at Forrester Research, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based information technology research firm. Mines authored a recent report, Broadband Hits Home, which predicts that by 2002, more than 16 million U.S. households-a quarter of all online homes-will use broadband Internet connections. Once that happens, broadband service providers will spread like wildfire and consumers will latch on to video e-mailing and virtual reality applications. Currently, most broadband ISPs are either cable or telephone companies.
Cable services use a standard coaxial connection (the same one that transmits cable television) and a cable modem that connects to your computer. Besides basic cable service, you’ll need a cable modem, which can cost up to $300. Cable modems download data at between 10 Mbps and 30 Mbps, depending on the service and equipment. However, uploading tends to be a bit slower, 10 Mbps or less. In addition to your monthly service fee of approximately $50, expect a one-time installation fee of about $100.
Cable ISP services like @Home (www.athome.net) and Road Runner (www.rr.com) offer original content and customized browsers, as well as lightning-fast Web surfing. Multiple e-mail accounts and Web page hosting are also included in the service charges. Road warriors will appreciate @Home’s ability to access accounts on the go by using a regular dial-up modem. And Time Warner-owned Road Runner gives subscribers access to the media giant’s entertainment content without having to first connect to the Internet. Cable Internet access is not yet available nationwide, so it’s best to contact your local cable company for information. However, if there’s no cable access in your city, there is an alternative.
National and local telephone companies can install digital subscriber lines (DSL) that may meet your need for speed. Although generally slower than cable access, they’re certainly faster than what you’re used to. Infospeed, a service available through several local phone companies, gives you a choice