Cable or DSL? Assess your Internet needs


Thread Starter
Stand against retrans!!!
Supporting Founder
Apr 18, 2005
DeKalb County, AL
HIGH-SPEED INTERNET companies are eyeing your second phone line, and they’re coming to pull the plug.

Technology has progressed since the days when a trip to the Internet meant having to wait, sometimes interminably, for the wretched whirring of a successful dial-up connection.

And while millions of households are still dialing to get online, high-speed Internet service providers are improving their networks and lowering prices, to the point that some analysts say dial-up is gradually becoming an anachronism. Like rotary phones. Or Ricky Martin.

For several months now, Verizon has been trying to drive the nail into dial-up’s coffin. It’s latest offer for DSL service, one of the faster ways for Web surfers to connect, is targeted at dial-up users who have continued to shy from costlier upgrades.

The tag line: “High-speed Internet at dial-up prices.”

Not to be outdone, Comcast recently promoted a special “limited time offer” for its high-speed cable service, which is more expensive than DSL but several times faster. Get Comcast high-speed Internet, the company implored last weekend, and pay just $19.99 — about the cost of dial-up — for the first three months.

It all sounds great. The problem, by and large, is that many families are clueless about the differences between DSL and cable.

“When they buy a house, they know if it has four bedrooms versus two,” said Andrew Weiss, who runs All Media Telecom, Inc., a consulting firm in Manchester. “But when it comes to Internet access, people are just very confused.”

It’s not the customer’s fault.

Internet service commercials tend to be somewhat cryptic, said Jim Doyle, a Manchester-based technology consultant. More often than not, he said, they offer little information that might help customers distinguish between providers.

Both Verizon and Comcast boast “high-speed” service, though all providers are not created equal. Consumers have to read the fine print to figure that out.

“It can be misleading,” Doyle said. “I don’t think it’s intentional. I think it’s a complicated technology, and the marketers are doing their best to make themselves look as good as they can to customers.

“Unfortunately, the average customer — they’re kind of caught in the middle and trying to figure it all out.”

In the end, the choice tends to boil down to a few key points:

* DSL is cheaper, but slower.

* Cable is costlier, but faster.

* Different people have different online needs. No service is perfect for everyone.

A need for speed?

DSL, which works over a household’s phone line, is easily the cheaper of the two products. Verizon, the nation’s second-largest DSL provider, offers packages for as little as $14.95 a month, and as much as $37.95 a month, depending on the speed of the connection.

By contrast, Comcast — the reigning king of broadband companies — charges $57.95 for the Internet each month, although its cable TV subscribers get a significant discount.

Ultimately, the price gap is largely about speed.

Comcast offers its customers a choice between two speed settings, both of which are at least twice as fast as Verizon DSL.

Cable seems even faster when compared with Verizon’s newest promotion: “entry-level” DSL service at the dial-up-like price of $14.95 a month. A side-by-side comparison shows Comcast is eight to 10 times faster.

The question, then, is will you notice the difference? And, for that matter, will you care?

That depends.

“If you’re grammy and grampa, 60 years old, and you’re just using it for e-mail, and occasionally you’re getting pictures from your daughter and grandkids, speed’s probably not going to matter,” said Judi Farr, who runs a Web site design and Internet consulting business in Manchester.

“The younger you are, the more interactive you are on the Internet. And so, for the family where there are kids and middle-age people, yeah, you’re going to want to have the fastest speed you can for the best buck.”

For basic Web browsing — that is, anyone who uses the Internet to check their e-mail, read news stories or bone up on the latest trends in flyfishing — DSL will seem infinitely faster than dial-up, and should be more than sufficient, experts say.

Cable, in that case, might be a luxury — like driving a Lamborghini to pick up the groceries. Enjoyable, but hardly necessary.

“Are you going to notice a difference between a page completely loading at 1/10 of second or at a full second? Probably not,” Doyle said.

Cable, however, might be a godsend for the Web surfer with greater demands. That may include the kid who uses the Web to play games, or anyone who spends time downloading music or videos.

“For a teenager at home that’s downloading mp3s, a 10-time improvement means one minute instead of 10 minutes. That’s huge to them,” Doyle said.
The fine print

If the decision is starting to seem fairly straightforward, prepare to be disappointed.

There are some x-factors. Verizon, for instance, may offer the Internet for cheap, but it comes with a contract. Customers who sign up for a year will find themselves with a $79 termination fee if they opt out early.

Also, at least for now, customers using Verizon for both their telephone and Internet services cannot disable their landline and hope to keep using DSL.

Geography, too, can complicate the debate.

Neither Comcast nor Verizon are available everywhere, although smaller Internet service providers often fill in the gaps (Visit to see a list of options in your hometown).

To make matters more complex, DSL service varies from place to place.

That’s because DSL lines operate best when the signal doesn’t have to travel far. A household near a Verizon central office is likely to enjoy a faster connection than a household three miles away.

Verizon DSL has 100 central offices in New Hampshire, mostly in downtown locations, according to company spokeswoman Jill Wurm.
Sharing is scaring

Distance has no bearing on cable service. But cable is not without it’s own hiccups.

Farr, whose home business is called Farr Better Ideas, said she used to be a Comcast cable Internet subscriber, but she found her connection slowed at inconvenient times.

“I was blaming the computer,” she said. “I was thinking there were all sorts of problems with something in my home, and there weren’t.”

The problem, she said, was a symptom of cable sharing.

Cable companies connect users to the Internet via community cable lines — the same lines that send MTV, CNN and the Spice Channel to television sets around the neighborhood.

The system only has so much bandwidth. That means that cable users may find their service slows whenever too many of their neighbors are surfing at the same time.

Farr said she switched to DSL, which doesn’t have that problem.

In its defense, Comcast says it has more than enough bandwidth to handle its customers’ needs. The company routinely monitors the network to ensure speediness, spokesman Marc Goodman said.

“The fear with cable was always, they might say they’re faster, but they’re going to slow down. Well, not really,” said Bruce Leichtman, president of the Durham-based Leichtman Research Group. “If that really happened where it would slow down precipitously, they have ways to change it so it wouldn’t affect the consumer.”
A click away

Comcast claims its network has the capacity to increase speeds tenfold over the next few years. By that point, using a phone line to surf the Web will feel a bit like riding a tricycle in the Indy 500.

Verizon, meanwhile, is laying down fiber optic lines for its new broadband service, called FiOS, which is even faster than Comcast is today. Customers in Bedford, Derry, Salem, Portsmouth, south Nashua, Epping, Exeter and Plaistow are already eligible to receive this service, and other locations are coming, Wurm said.

Customers will have their own reasons for picking one provider over another, Leichtman said. Experts like him have their own preferences (in his case, cable), but they can’t make the decision for anyone else.

He does, however, have one piece of advice.

“If you’ve got a second phone line for your Internet service, it’s time to get rid of it,” he said. “You’re just wasting money at this point. That’s really the message of broadband.”


Supporting Founder
Supporting Founder
Sep 7, 2003
Western WV
They are not going to get rid of dialup internet until they get high speed to those farther out/in the country.

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