Dial-up vs. High-Speed Internet Service by André D. Youmans The recent spate of advertising for DSL, satellite, broadband, and cable internet services has led me to consider my own meager service. As I wait for my computer to dial up to the internet, I’ll write a few lines on the vices and virtues of the two main types of service: dial-up service and the various forms of high-speed internet service. Three main issues to compare and contrast between the two types come to mind: accessibility, speed, and affordability. While I will attempt to be unbiased in my assessment, you should know that I am an unwilling slave to dial-up. Accessibility is one area in which the differences between dial-up and high-speed internet service are quite noticeable. One of the many “qualities” of dial-up is the wonderful fact that when someone is the phone, no one else in the house can use the internet. And, by the same token, when someone is using the internet, no one can use the phone. With eight people living in our house, this can be quite an inconvenience. My father keeps promising (threatening?) to put in a second phone line for internet use, but he has not yet had time to do it. Meanwhile, I’ve had my share of mishaps with dial-up. For some reason that I still don’t understand, the phone jack in my room suddenly died, which meant that I needed to find a phone jack somewhere else. The closest one in the house just so happened to be in the kitchen, which is about 30 feet away from my room. So I found a 30-foot phone line and ran it out into the kitchen. Apparently the dog seemed to think it was a chew-toy, and she gnawed through it. I simply bit my lip and did the best I could to repair the wire. The next day the dog had chewed through it again, this time being more thorough in her work by chewing it in six different places. For her penance, the dog spent the next few nights outdoors, and I found myself a new cord in my father’s collection of extra wires. Once I got the dog retrained I had to teach my little brothers and sisters not to pull the cord from the jack while I was trying to surf the ‘net. While I occasionally have access to high-speed internet at school or at friends’ houses, I don’t have quite as much experience in dealing with it as I do with dial-up. But from what I have seen, I can’t find much to complain about. Whenever I visit my cousin, I’m impressed with the way he can just pop open his laptop, browse the web (which is always “on”), click on a link, and instantly be taken to his desired location. Back home we brew a pot of coffee while waiting for a page to load up. But, I digress. I can elaborate more on this topic when discussing speed. It seems to me that accessibility and speed are closely related, probably due to the archaic technology still being used in rural areas. Once my mother was working online when the connection died. She checked the phone line, and it was dead, too. She called to my father outside, who was working on fencing out in front of the house. They soon realized that he had just driven a steel fence post right through the phone line, which was buried a few inches underground. (A family friend with telecommunications experience came out to splice the line and repair it for us, but it took several hours.) We also noticed, after some bad weather, that our driveway had eroded a bit, revealing what appeared to be our telephone line. This was confirmed when my father drove over it while I was online, and it instantly disconnected me from the internet. Heavy rains cause crackling in the phone lines, which impairs the quality of the internet connection and slows it down even more. Dry weather makes the electric fence charger ground improperly, preventing the dial-up connection from working at all, so I have to go down to the barn to unplug the fence charger if I want to check my email. Such is life in rural Tennessee. You may have seen the commercials for BellSouth DSL service, inviting everyone to sign up, since it is now so affordable and available. We are BellSouth customers, so we thought this sounded like a great idea. However, when we visited the BellSouth website and entered our phone number, we were told that DSL was not available in our area. So much for availability. For those who are fortunate enough to have high-speed internet service in their area, internet users do not have to consider the weather, or check to see if anyone is on the phone or expecting an important call before getting online. The only time I’ve heard anything bad about high-speed internet is when I saw one person claim that the reason he was losing so badly on an online game was that he was “only” running at a speed of 100 kbps. If it weren’t for the fact that he was in another country I probably would have throttled him, because I was currently running at a record-breaking speed of 3 kbps. I’ve noticed that people who use high-speed internet take it for granted that everyone else does, too, when, in fact, a large percentage of people are still using dial-up technology. This is especially annoying when trying to work out a problem with a tech support person who cannot understand why I don’t just go online and work through the problem as he gives me instructions over the phone. My dial-up connection is supposed to run at speeds of up to 56 kbps, but for me it runs at 2 kbps IF it’s a sunny day, certain planets are aligned, and a three-legged llama crosses my path. Today’s web designers are using more and more Flash and Java applications, which causes the web pages to take even longer to load for dial-up users. With regular images I can elect to stop them from loading in order to read the text on the page, but with these fancy applications that is not an option. I have to wait for the entire page to load, which does make one think carefully before clicking on something. If I’m careless with my clicking, I could be loading a page for the next half-hour. And it could turn out to be a page filled with ads for singles classifieds, music downloads, and a chance to win an Xbox 360. (Yeah, right.) Again, speed and accessibility are related, because when I only have a limited amount of time for internet use, I can’t afford to waste time watching an annoying ad load up. And I’m usually being reminded by my parents, who don’t want me to monopolize the phone line, that my twenty minutes of internet time has expired. High-speed customers don’t have to worry about this, as they can easily click back to their original page with no time wasted, and no one is being inconvenienced by their surfing in the first place. Just about the only area in which dial-up is superior to high-speed internet is that of affordability, but only if we don’t factor in the value of our time. Our family pays only $4.95 a month, because it is bundled in with our phone service. Even if we put in a second line dedicated to dial-up internet use, it will cost under $10 more per month. BellSouth DSL costs $24.95 per month, satellite internet costs about $49.95 per month plus the cost of special equipment and installation fees, and Comcast costs... well, a lot, but I can’t research the actual cost because I’m still waiting for my dial-up connection to go through. Dial-up is the way to go if you have a couple years to burn loading up pop-up banners and useless SPAM, or if you’re too far out in the country to get anything else, or if you don’t have much money to spend. Otherwise, it would just be a better idea to sign up for high-speed internet. But then you’d miss that lovely little screeching sound that always greets the dial-up slave as he anxiously listens for his connection to be made. Well, my computer has finally finished dialing up, so I guess I’ll be going now. I don’t have time to waste!