From crispen@INTERNIC.NET Sun Feb  8 00:28:27 1998
Date: Sun, 25 Jan 1998 21:13:31 -0500
From: crispen@INTERNIC.NET

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Howdy, y'all!  :)

I have a small request for our bus riders who are joining us through AT&T's
WorldNet Internet Service:  if y'all receive multiple copies of this week's
post, please let the folks at AT&T's WorldNet customer service know about
it.  [For some reason, AT&T's WorldNet is "burping" every time we send out
a TOURBUS post, resulting in WorldNet customers receiving multiple copies.
Oddly, this only affects AT&T WorldNet customers; every other domain in the
world is receiving our posts just fine.]

With that said, let's pay some bills [Don't forget to take a look at
today's TOURBUS logo].  Since your fearless bus driver still can't eat hard
food (I had oral surgery 6 weeks ago, and my doctor prohibited me from
chewing again until February 10th), I have developed quite an affinity for
"mushy" food.  So I guess you could say that I appreciate the following
TOURBUS sponsor not only for helping keep our little bus of Internet
happiness on the road but also for showing me that a soft food diet doesn't
have to be limited to only mashed potatoes and Jell-O.  :)

+------------- FLYING NOODLE PASTA OF THE MONTH CLUB ---------------+
        Only $19.95 plus shipping - 2 Gourmet PASTAS, 2 SAUCES
    and recipes. A great gift or a small indulgence for yourself.
+-----------------[ ]-------------------+

And now, on with the show ...


One of the nice things about sharing an apartment with three other college
students is that our monthly bills are pretty reasonable.  For example, my
portion of last month's utility bills (cable, electricity, telephone, and
water) came to about US$50.  Even for a poor college student, that's not
all that expensive.

Now, I am not saying that living with three other people is all wine and
roses.  Our apartment has three computers (with two more on the way), and
only one telephone line.  Needless to say, battles over who can use the
phone line to talk to their friends and when our one phone line can be used
for surfing the Internet are commonplace.

So, we are left with three options:

     1. Do nothing, and continue fighting over who can use our
        apartment's single phone line;

     2. Get a second telephone line; or

     3. Install a new, dedicated, high-speed Internet connection
        (cable modem, DSL, satellite dish, or ISDN line) that will
        move all of our apartment's Internet traffic off of our single
        telephone line.

The first option [do nothing] isn't a very good idea because the only time
that anyone in our apartment is free to use the telephone line to surf for
any significant amount of time is in the wee hours of the morning.  The
second option [get a second telephone line] sounds like a good idea at
first, but it doesn't take care of another problem that I haven't mentioned
yet: surfing the Internet through a plain old modem connection --
especially a plain old modem connection in Tuscaloosa, Alabama -- is
disturbingly slow.

I my roommates and I could always go out and buy faster modems.  By now,
everyone has heard of the new 56K modems.  In fact, there is a wonderful
site on the Web at

that tells you everything that you could ever want to know about 56K
modems.  The site includes a buyer's guide with reviews of different 56K
modems, an upgrade guide that tells you if you are able to upgrade your
existing modems to 56k, and even a list of Internet Service Providers
offering 56K access.  I particularly like the site's "56K Primer" which
shows you the basics of 56K including the pros and the cons.

Unfortunately, 56K isn't going to be a good solution for our apartment for
a couple of reasons:

     1. The telephone lines in Tuscaloosa aren't the best in the world
        -- I personally think that Bell's "Watson, come here" quote
        was sent through Tuscaloosa's telephone lines -- so it is
        unlikely that any of us would be able to actually surf the Net
        at 56K.  40K would be more likely.  In fact, if you are having
        trouble connecting to your ISP at 33.6K (which we are),
        chances are you won't see much of a speed improvement at all
        by buying a new 56K modem.

        [By the way, for those of you who are confused by all of the
        numbers used for modem speeds, just remember that a 28.8 modem
        can transfer one page of text, 70 characters wide and 60 lines
        long, every second.  So, a 56K modem can transfer 2 pages of
        text a second.]

     2. Spending all that money for a second telephone line and new
        modems only to see a 40% increase in speed doesn't make much
        sense, especially considering that everyone in this apartment
        is on a tight budget.

56K also has a couple of other obstacles.  There are two competing 56K
technologies, and these technologies are not "interoperable" (that just
means that an X2 brand modem made by U.S. Robotics won't be able to
communicate at 56K with a K56flex brand modem made by Rockwell or Lucent).
If you buy an X2 modem and your ISP is using K56flex modems, you are out of
luck -- you will not be able to connect to your ISP at 56K.  Fortunately,
the major modem manufacturers are currently working on a single 56K
standard, but that may not be ready for several more months.

This doesn't mean that 56K won't work for you.  In fact, many of our
TOURBUS riders surf the Net at or near 56K with little or no problem.  It
is just that a 56K modem isn't the solution that my apartment is looking

So, it looks like we're going to choose the third option: install a new,
dedicated, high-speed Internet connection.  There are currently 4 major
high-speed residential Internet connections to choose from:

     1. Cable modem;

     2. Digital satellite system;

     3. Digital subscriber line (DSL); or

     4. Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN).

With a cable modem, your cable company becomes your Internet Service
Provider, linking you to the Net at speeds above 1,500K (a 28.8K modem
sends one page of text a second; a 1,500K cable modem sends 53+ pages of
text a second).  Unfortunately, finding a cable company that offers cable
modem access is almost impossible.  In the United States, cable modem
access is only available to about 10% of the population, and only 100,000
people have signed up for the service so far [call your cable company,
though, and ask them if they offer this service].  Unfortunately, the cable
company is Tuscaloosa doesn't even offer Comedy Central in its list of TV
channels, so I'm not expecting to see cable modem service in our neck of
the woods for another 10 years.  So we can mark cable modems off of our

The second option, a connection through a digital satellite system,
requires that you install a mini DSS satellite dish on your dwelling.
You've probably seen these new DSS dishes advertised on TV or on display in
your local electronics store (take a trip down to your local Radio Shack or
Service Merchandise -- both are located throughout the US and Canada -- to
see the new DSS dishes, or hop on over to Yahoo -- --
and do a keyword search for "DSS").  You can either purchase or rent one of
these dishes (they only cost a couple of hundred dollars (US)), and then
for an additional US$20 a month (on top of what you have to pay each month
for your satellite TV programming) you can connect to the Net through your
DSS dish at 200K (about 7 pages a second).

You can find more information about this service from the nice folks at
your local electronics store or from companies like

Unfortunately, our apartment manager wouldn't be too happy if we bolted a
satellite dish to the side of her building, so I guess we can scratch the
possibility of our apartment ever being able to connect to the Net through
a digital satellite system (besides, our apartment faces North and East,
and in our part of the world the dish has to be pointed South).

The third option for fast Internet access in our apartment is something
called a Digital Subscriber Line (DSL).  Actually, this technology has been
around for a while.  DSL uses your regular telephone line to send Internet
data at extremely high speeds (several hundred kilobits of data per
second).  Unfortunately, DSL requires a telephone service man to come out
to your home and "split" your telephone line into two parts: a voice part
and a data part.  Since the data part of your telephone line requires a
constant telephone connection, most areas of the world either don't offer
DSL or they charge a heck of a lot of money for it (charges of US$200 a
month are not unheard of).

Fortunately, the folks at Microsoft, Intel, and Compaq recently threw their
support behind something called "DSL Lite" which will, theoretically, allow
you to use a DSL modem to connect to the Internet at speeds up to 1,500K
(53+ pages of text a second) without having to have a telephone service man
split your telephone line.  Best of all, this new service will only cost
about US$20 a month.  Some people are expecting DSL Lite to be available by
Christmas 1998, but I'm a little skeptical about that.  Unless you live in
a _MAJOR_ city -- Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, etc. -- don't count on
DSL Lite being available in your city until after the turn of the century.

So, since DSL is still too expensive (and isn't yet available in
Tuscaloosa), and since DSL Lite doesn't really exist yet, we can scratch
DSL off of our list.

So our last option to get fast Internet access in our apartment is to
install an Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) connection.  An ISDN
line is a purely digital telephone line that is installed by your local
telephone company.  Because the line is digital, you don't need a modem (a
modem turns your computer's zeros and ones into noise so that it can travel
over regular telephone lines.  Since the ISDN line already uses zeros and
ones, you can bypass the modem).  You do, however, need something called a
"terminal adapter" which allows your computer to talk over the ISDN line.

Each ISDN line is capable of transferring up to 64K a second (just over 2
pages a second).  What is really cool is that it is possible for you to use
two ISDN lines simultaneously ("dual channel") and surf the Internet at
128K (about 4.5 pages a second).

There are a couple of problems with ISDN, though.  The pure digital
telephone line requires an installation visit from your local telephone
service man, and this visit is going to cost you about US$200.  Then, the
telephone company is going to charge you between US$40 and US$100 each
month for the line (BellSouth charges Alabama residents about US$64 a
month), and your ISP may charge you up to US$50 a month for a special ISDN
account.  Even worse, some states charge a per minute fee for the time that
you spend using your ISDN lines (fortunately, such charges don't exist in
Alabama ... yet).

Still, considering all the stuff that we have talked about, our apartment
decided that installing an ISDN line was our best choice.  Even though
costs about US$200 to have the ISDN line installed, and it will cost us
US$110 a month for the ISDN service (US$64 for the line and US$45 for the
account with our ISP), splitting the cost between the four of us makes that
cost pretty reasonable.

In fact, BellSouth installed our ISDN line on Thursday, and all of my
roommates have been surfing the Internet at 128K since (that, by the way,
is why today's post is so late -- it took 2 days to install the line, so I
am just now getting the change to write this week's post).

I realize that ISDN isn't going to be the choice for everyone (if DSL was
available here, especially DSL Lite, we would have picked it over ISDN
every day of the week).  I also realize that most of you won't have 3 other
roommates willing to pay 75% of your Internet connection costs.  Still, I
figured that by showing you the choices that we had to make here at our
apartment, you would get a better idea of the different ways that you can
connect to the Net from home.

That's it for this week.  :)


FARD (Verb).  Terminated.
Usage: "Bubba don't work here no more ... we fard him."

(Special thanks to me for today's wurd)


    For info on my book "Atlas for the Information Superhighway"

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  (\__/)  .'     )  ))       Patrick Douglas Crispen
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