Quicker Internet connections now the norm, but the best remains costly

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When Racine quality consultant Jay Warner connects to the Internet to update his World Wide Web page or research solutions for a client, he still dials up at 56 kps per second.
It’s not fast, but it is cheap: For about $10 a month, Warner gets a fixed amount of surfing time each month when he dials up his Internet service provider’s local port. Unlimited time wouldn’t cost much more, but Warner doesn’t need it for his work.
“I spend a fair amount of time in the Internet dealing with inquiries from around the world,” Warner says. Not long ago, on a search for equipment needed by a client in Taiwan, “because of the speed, the thing bottlenecked.”
The experience, combined with recent publicity about newly available high-speed connections to the Internet, has Warner wondering. Is he better off paying more for faster service? If so, which one? And might something less expensive and almost as good be just around the corner?
“I could easily see I could be much more efficient if I had a link to a high-speed line,” says Warner, principal scientist at Warner Consulting. “I’m willing to pay more if I can perceive a real improvement.”
Warner isn’t alone. Lots of other small businesses – especially, but not only, home-based offices – still rely on the 56k connection standard. Alternatives have never been more numerous – and the choices are about to broaden.
Cadillac option
is now T1 line
The Cadillac option is a T-1 connection – a direct, high-speed connection to the Internet that, depending on the details, can run after set-up costs anywhere from $600 a month well into the thousands of dollars. AT&T, for instance, charges about $25,000 a month for a T-45 hookup that connects at an astonishing 45 megabits per second, says Donn Heltsley, an Internet marketing specialist for AT&T in Brookfield.
But because of its cost, T-1 hookups are mostly of interest to much larger companies, Internet providers acknowledge. Instead, providers tout other choices: Digital Subscriber Lines – DSL, and ISDN – short for Integrated Services Digital Network. Another option lurks around the corner: cable modem service. Cable modems won’t be available here until sometime next year, however, and even then will likely be marketed mainly to consumers for home shopping and entertainment.
ISDN service uses a separate telephone line and connects at twice the speed of 56kps modems. It gains speed by transmitting data as digital, rather than analog, signals.
Providers quote prices ranging from $30 to $40 a month for the ISDN connection, plus a roughly equal amount for the separate ISDN telephone line, to as much as $175 a month. ISDN providers generally charge extra for every minute of use.
DSL far surpasses modem connection
The new glamour option, however, is DSL, which can offer connections eight times as fast as a dial-up modem.
“No small business should still be using a dial-up modem,” says Dave Cowen, director of new product development at ExecPC, the Milwaukee ISP recently bought by Voyager.Net. “Dial-up modems, simply put, operate at much too slow a speed to allow efficient use of the Internet for research or for data transfer” – sending huge files, such as manufacturing drawings or computer-based presentations, for instance.
ExecPC is currently the only provider marketing DSL service in the Milwaukee area. Cowen says charges for the service run from $200 to $300 a month, plus an $850 set-up charge. In return, the user gets a connection up to eight times faster than the 56k dial-up, and one that can serve several work stations, unlike the dial-up service.
AT&T also hopes to offer DSL service in markets around the country by the end of the year, Heltsley says, although just when it would enter the Milwaukee market isn’t yet clear.
Not all Internet providers hear the demand from their customers for the speed that DSL provides, however.
Mike Falaschi, president of Wisconsin Internet in Racine, says that at currently quoted rates for DSL, “to my mind the price is stiff for small business.” Frugality, not speed, seems to be the top topic for his small business customers. “Our No. 1 question is, ‘Why don’t you offer a limited plan for $10 a month?'” Falaschi says.
Cable connections
are on the horizon
Finally, there’s cable modem service – or will be, in about a year. AT&T and Time Warner Cable have formed a partnership to provide cable modem Internet connections. The companies expect service to arrive in the Milwaukee area sometime in 2000. AT&T already provides cable Internet service in partnerships with cable providers in other communities.
At an estimated $40 a month and offering speeds faster than ISDN service, but generally slower than DSL, cable modems might seem to be an ideal solution for small businesses.
Providers, however, have so far primarily marketed the service to residential consumers, and plan to keep their focus there. With a total of 80 million to 100 million potential homes for cable modem service, says Tom Sharrard, president of Time Warner Cable’s Milwaukee division, “there’s an incredible market out there.” Marketing to small businesses will come second.
Moreover, it’s still not clear whether cable modem service providers such as Time Warner will offer services such as domain-hosting, enabling a business with its own proprietary Internet domain to use a cable Internet connection. “That’s something that’s still being sorted out in terms of the levels of service offered,” Sharrard says.

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