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September 2001
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Question & Answer

Should I Race to Be a Road Runner?

The editor polls the LTN board:

MY LOCAL cable company (Manhattan's Time Warner) just upgraded our neighborhood and I can now get Road Runner cable modem service (for about $30 a month as part of the $99/month buy-absolutely-every- movie-channel-on-the-planet- because-you-don't-have-a-life dTV package). While it is tempting, I'm sticking, at least temporarily, with my trusty little vanilla dedicated phone line (because I really don't do that much at home except read e-mail and surf ebay). But for our readers, who may run home offices, I'm curious: What do you recommend for home Internet connection? Dedicated phone? Cable modem? DSL?

The Answers

1   ANDY ADKINS: I just ordered DSL from the local phone company -- it just became available. I'm a little skeptical, only because it's new territory for me.

For now, I'm also keeping my "computer" line until I figure out how well it works.

The other problem I have is that the "family" computer will be getting the DSL. I'm trying to figure out the most economical and reliable method of connecting my trustee laptop to the same DSL. Do I use wireless or do I use Ethernet 10BaseT cable? I think I'll try Ethernet 10BaseT first, because that'll run 100 mbps, as opposed to wireless which is still only 11.5 mbps.

2   ARITA SIMS: I've been using cable modem in my home office ($55 per month, six e-mail accounts) because it was the only fast connection available when I moved from the metro area to a small town. DSL is now available but pricier, and I've heard complaints from many DSL users in Michigan. I pay $5 more for the modem than I would if I also had cable TV -- the company's penalty for people who, as you say, have a life. Provider: Millennium Digital Media.

3   DOUG CADDELL: Don't fool yourself: get the cable modem. One issue for many people is availability. In my home in Kansas City I'm too far from the telephone central office and can't get DSL. However, we can get cable modem. And we are in a major metropolitan suburb. Others have the situation switched.

4   JEFF FLAX: My only option is Sprint Broadband Wireless ( So far, mostly good -- way faster than dial-up.

5   CAROL SCHLEIN: I am going on the third year with a cable modem in my home office. We've connected several computers using a LinkSys which lets multiple PCs share a single Internet connection and includes a firewall. A fast connection totally changes how you use the Internet.

6   MICHAEL KRAFT: Cable modems are the choice here. They are faster and far more reliable than other options.

7   DAN COOLIDGE: High speed Internet at home serves only a couple of purposes, neither work related: 1) enabling your children to download huge music files; and 2) downloading games. For my real work, and my home being well out in the puckerbrush, I run quite easily on a 28K(!) hookup. The rare time I need to download a meg or two, I get a cup of coffee.

8   TOM O'CONNOR: Cable modem is the only way to fly, er surf: head and shoulders over POTS of course, and much more reliable than DSL. I've tried DSL in three different parts of the country over the past four years and never had reliable installation, service or tech support. Cable was installed in 15 minutes, folks knew what they were doing, only interruption was during the "Big Red Scare" for about five hours. Only problem I have with it is I can't get my 12-year-old and his friends off instant messaging long enough so that I can use the computer.

9   ED SIEBEL: I always recommend DSL for anyone who surfs on a daily basis (doesn't matter how long). Cable works O.K. so long as the branch isn't saturated with heavy users. But you don't have the flexibility to change ISPs and it's unlikely that you're always going to be satisfied.

DSL lets you to hold the threat of changing if service gets tacky. I have both ISDN and DSL. Used the former for several years until DSL got reasonable. Now it's just a way to get a couple of cheap POTS lines, and a backup, if necessary.

10   BILL GIBSON: I recently moved to the country and don't have access to DSL or cable so I had an ISDN line installed. It's faster than conventional phone lines but much slower than either cable or DSL. I use the ISDN line to connect to the Internet and also to connect to my office network. My office is about 25 miles away from my home. (I have ISDN at my office, too.)

11   SALLY GONZALEZ: Cable model and DSL are great when they work. Getting them to work without wrecking havoc with your in-office network settings can be a significant challenge.

Always check with your I.T. staff before creating a connection. The first people on a new service will get fabulous performance.

As more and more customers come online to the same segment of the network, performance can bog down -- and can get even slower than a phone line. Don't assume good initial speed means good speed forever. And be prepared to spend days working with the tech department of your service provider as you try to complete initial setup. Have a speaker phone and expect to be on hold. Keep the fluid of your choice nearby to ease the frustration.

12   MARTY AFRICA: DSL, but it was hell getting it installed by Pacific Bell.

13   JO HARAF: We like cable modems for their reliability but the need for a fixed name or I.P. address can be a challenge when joining the network remotely. In any case, we support both cable modems and DSL but I wish there was a bit more standardization among the vendors. The industry, and our sanity, could benefit from consolidation.

14   ANDY JURCYZK: Cable or DSL is the only way to go. You only check e-mail now because your connection is SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO SLOOOOOOOOOOOOWWW. Once connected at cable and DSL speeds your world will change at home. Also, it probably wouldn't cost you much more that what you are already paying.

15   ALAN ROTHMAN: This issue occasionally arises in our Computer Law Lab at the New York City Lawyers Association, where most users are from local small and solo offices. Many are going with either DSL or cable because of the current pricing structures and near blanket availablity of both technologies throughout New York City.

However, a fair number have also chosen to maintain another dedicated analog phone line and standard modem dail-up account as a backup they can readily switch to in the event of any sort of outage.

(MB: Yep, at least in N.Y.C., analog -- with a decent modem/processor -- zips along just fine.)

16   ALBERT BARSOCCHINI: Make sure you go with a big player like A.T.&T. because there is a lot of attrition among the DSL providers right now. Go to to do comparison shopping and to see what kind of service is available in your area.

17   ROSS KODNER: Had DSL at home with Telocity but made an anticipatory switch to Time Warner cable. Anticipatory in the sense that I figured it was just a matter of time before Telocity, a Rythyms franchisee, went belly up. Lo and behold, Rythyms has announced that it will shut down its pipes on 9/10. As to cable, it's quick, it works, it's $10 a month cheaper than the DSL line was. DSL now = "Didn't Survive Long." With cable, slap on a firewall and you're good to go!

(MB: Just at press time, Covad Communications Group Inc. announced that it plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, with a $1.4 billion debt, according to Reuters.)

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