Infotainment cusp: We live in interesting times

There's been a lot of talk lately about how the Internet and television will converge to become one big "infotainment" medium. The AOL/Time Warner merger was one step in that direction. But for this convergence to happen, they will need for us to connect to a high speed Internet service provider. This high speed service is called "broadband."

Whether or not we accept the concept of this new direction of the Internet, the desire for faster Internet access is with us.

Today most of us connect to the Internet using existing telephone wires in what is called an analog dialup connection. When we go to a web page it appears on our screen slowly. Pictures take a long time and if there is voice or video it can take forever and the pictures appear jerky.

What we are doing can be likened to connecting to a water tower through a straw. There's a lot of water in the tower but it just trickles out at our end because the straw is small.

When we sign up with a broadband Internet service provider, we connect with a big pipe. Everything now appears very fast. Our favorite web pages appear rapidly and in the future we will be able to view television shows or movies over the Internet and they will appear normal. No more jerky pictures.

Presently there are two major competitors supplying broadband service. Neither supplies service to all of our cities, but both are trying hard to get all of us "wired."

Existing cable television companies probably have the edge. Over seventy million households are connected to cable and almost all cities have service. Not all cable companies offer Internet service yet but they are busily upgrading. In our city, for instance, some parts are served and the rest will be soon.

The other major competitor is the telephone company. They are offering a service called DSL or Digital Subscriber Line. They are using new technology to upgrade their current service so that it will be able to carry Internet as well as telephone circuits over existing telephone wires. Like cable Internet, DSL is not available everywhere yet.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Cable Internet has a large pipe connected to the water tower. However, as more people connect to this pipe, like a row of lawn sprinklers, the flow of water in each pipe may decrease.

With DSL, on the other hand, each of us connects to the water tower with the same size pipe so we all get the same water flow. However, if the distance between the water tower and us gets too great, our flow decreases.

Are these technical differences worth considering? Possibly not. The costs are competitive and currently are in the vicinity of $40 - $50 per month plus about a $150 installation fee. If you already have cable, this cost would be in addition to your existing charge.

I believe that the real battle taking place is in the marketplace so that in the future one service provider will supply Internet access, telephone service, cellular service and content access and place everything on one monthly statement. And the company that has the biggest pipeline into the home will be that provider.

In any case, consumers may be well served. There might be some privacy concerns and concerns about so much power being in the hands of a few large service providers. However, the World Wide Web purportedly has over one billion individual web pages so there's still a lot of content out there.

Should we do anything now? For the time being, the most interesting vantage point might be to stay on the sidelines and watch the battle of the titans. Will AOL/Time Warner have to buy a telephone company? Will a mega-merged telephone company buy AOL/Time Warner? Will AT&T buy everyone? What about Yahoo?

If we wish, we can stay with our existing dialup service. If we want faster Internet access, we can sign up for whichever broadband service is the least expensive and available now. Whether we connect via cable or DSL isn't important because we can change later. The most important decision might be what stock to buy. As the old proverb says, "may you live in interesting times." I think we do.

 _____________________________________________________________________________ Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet courses at the Tustin Area Senior Center and the Tustin Adult School. Visit his web site at: This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at:

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