To high speed connect, or not; it just depends

The other day someone asked if it was worthwhile installing a high speed Internet connection for their home computer. My answer was, "that depends."

This is my usual answer when it comes to computers because it does all depend upon how the computer is going to be used.

The latest statistics suggest there are about 96 million Internet users in the United States. In 2004, these almost were evenly divided between high speed and dialup connections. High speed usage rapidly is increasing but still accounts for only half of all U.S. Internet usage.

I have a high speed dsl connection to our home computers but I may have some special needs to justify the cost and occasional hassle.

My decision was based upon a number of criteria. Downloading programs from the Internet can take an inordinate amount of time on a slow speed connection. With the recent online availability of Microsoft's Service Pack 2 for Windows XP, this download took just minutes with my connection but could take hours on dialup. For those with dialup, Microsoft made SP2 available free of charge on compact disk but you had to wait.

Updates for my virus protection program take seconds to arrive, as do patches for the operating system. Also, web pages appear faster. So do my 100 or so emails that I receive each day (mostly spam).

However, to answer the basic question, is this worth the additional cost?

Currently there are two primary methods to obtain a high speed Internet connection; DSL and cable. DSL, or Digital Subscriber Line, is available from a number of Internet Service Providers but the connection depends upon the copper wire supplied by the local telephone company. In our area, this is SBC. Connections typically are rated at around 800 thousand bits per second, but the actual speed depends upon a number of factors. Never the less, it still is much faster than dialup. Unfortunately, because of the crazy political/accounting structure of dsl connections, service can be divided by as many as three different organizations. This can lead to unexpected and time consuming hassles.

If you have existing cable television service, the cable company also can provide a high speed Internet connection. These connections have some theoretical limits, but most people experience connection speeds in the vicinity of 2,800 thousand bits per second. This may slow down during periods of peak usage but be much faster during slack times. Note this is about three and a half times faster than dsl.

I selected dsl because we receive our television signals via satellite and do not have a cable connection.

Dialup connection speeds are in the vicinity of 56 thousand bits per second and are considered "slow." However, dialup Internet connections can be obtained anywhere from $9.95 to $23 monthly. And there are a number of free email only connections. On the other hand, high speed connections seem to be in the $29 to $50 monthly range. The decision therefore depends upon weighing convenience, patience and cost. That's the, "that depends" answer.

In the future there may be other convenient sources of high speed connections. The latest fad is Wi-Fi, or wireless connectivity. Primarily this is local but new standards may increase the range to miles. And, of course, one of these days, the telephone companies may install fiber optic cables into our homes. These would be tremendously large "pipes" and allow very high speed connectivity. In the mean time, the game is dsl, cable or dialup.

If you would like to hear more high speed Internet connectivity or other computer topics, visit "Coffee and Computers" at the Tustin Area Senior Center, 200 S. 'C' Street, any Friday morning starting at 9 a.m. Bring your questions or just come in and visit.

In the mean time, keep the neurons happy, synapses snapping and enjoy computing.


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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