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Your Guide to Broadband Internet -- and Broadband Providers

Not too many years ago, a home Internet connection was considered not only a luxury but a sure way to label you with a very high rating on the geek scale (which goes from zero up to a simple pictograph of someone with coke bottle glasses and multiple pocket protectors).

The Internet was not originally a consumer or business service. Like radar and Chapstick, the Internet has its origins in U.S. Military research via DARPA, or Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. (Sure, Al Gore claims he invented the Internet but he also champions the environment while sporting the biggest carbon footprint around.)

Broadband Background

In the Internet's early days, the only available Internet connection was telephone dial-up, which transferred data packets at a rate comparable to pouring molasses from a fruit jar. Today, although dial-up service is still available, most web surfers use broadband service.

What constitutes broadband? It's also called high-speed Internet and the International Telecommunication Union merely defines it as "faster than primary rate ISDN. This means faster than 1.5 to 2.0 Mbits/s.

Broadband is most commonly delivered via a cable modem or DSL. Cable modems receive signals through cable TV coax, while DSL does it via telephone wires. It is also available from services like Hughs via satellite but this option is very expensive. Since DSL works best for homes that are close to telephone relay stations, cable modems are generally the best option.

Big Players in Broadband

Broadband is a very competitive market and it hasn't reached its climax yet. Let's take a look at some of the big boys in the game. Earthlink is proud to be number one in customer satisfaction. They have somewhere in the neighborhood of five million subscribers.

Earthlink provides comprehensive software which is a bit like a menu – you can take all of it or just the bits you want. Some of these are parental content filter controls and pop-up blockers. Like most providers, they have a sweetheart deal for the first six months. It goes up after that, but $19.95 per month for the first half year is very inviting. Earthlink ranks in the top three services in customer satisfaction according to http://www.broadbandinfo.com/cable/comparisons.html. Their subscriber base of seven million make them even larger than Earthlink.

Broadbandinfo.com also reports that Comcast eclipses Earthlink's subscriber base with over nine million subscribers. In an effort to provide their customers with a one-stop shop, Comcast offers their Triple Play, which bundles Internet, digital TV, and digital voice.

Road Runner is the nation's largest cable modem service provider. Broadbandinfo.com reveals why this is so – Roadrunner also provides services through Time Warner Cable, Bright House Communications, Insight, and Urban Cableworks. Their basic price is $29.99/month. They supply a free firewall and anti-virus package which is better than the native software provided with windows operating systems. They also offer a small business account.

Verizon is a large provider of DSL connectivity, which is a natural since they're a large telecommunication company. Their fees are just $14.95/month and the customer can take advantage of bundling the DSL with some of their other products.

SBC Yahoo! DSL takes a slightly different tack. Rather than being tightly focused on the residential surfer, they promote shopping, stock trading and business to business commerce. Yahoo has come a long way from being a mere free email provider. Their price is also quite affordable at $14.99/month.

Surprisingly, Qwest DSL holds the distinction of being the nation's largest Broadband service. Their price is a bit steeper than Yahoo at $19.99/month but still a good deal with McAfee anti-virus and comprehensive parental controls.

With all these services to choose from, there's something for everyone without too many differences among them. The price tends to be a little more expensive with cable modem service, but in the long run it's actually cheaper if you follow the burgeoning trend of giving up your land line and going 100% cellular.

Kelly Smith is a former software engineer at NASA and a professional handyman who is now a full-time writer.

Article written July 2008

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