Courtesy of cnet.com
Like DSL, cable technology provides a high-bandwidth, always-on
connection to the Internet (often over the same line as your cable
TV service) for a reasonable price. As with DSL, cable Internet
service isn't ubiquitous, and many misconceptions abound.
1. Thanks to your big-name cable TV company, a cable connection
is easy to set up and available everywhere you find cable TV.
2. With a cable modem, you get connection speeds as fast as 27
3. Cable Internet access is as cheap as cable TV.
4. A cable connection is as safe from hackers as a traditional
dial-up modem connection.
1. In order for you to get cable, your access provider must physically
attach a coaxial cable and a cable modem to your computer, which
may mean adding a network card if you don't already have one. This
installation process is often both time-consuming and costly (around
$75, although some companies permit self-installation).
Nor do all areas of the country have access to cable Internet connections.
If your local cable company--which typically holds a monopoly on
all services--doesn't offer Internet access, you're out of luck.
At the moment, there's little if any competition among companies
providing cable Internet access.
2. You'll probably never get data transfer rates even close to
cable's theoretical 27 mbps. For a number of reasons, connection
speeds range from 500 kbps to 2 mbps. One big factor is that you
share that cable line with other local customers. If you're the
only person in your neighborhood online via cable, you may well
get that 2 mbps. But as each person logs on, your access speed is
divvied up. If one of your cosurfers starts downloading mammoth
files, your performance will degrade further.
Ask your cable provider how many other PCs share your cable connection
and what will be the fastest connection speeds you're likely to
get. And find out if the cable provider guarantees minimum upload/download
3. It's true that cable Net access is relatively cheap--as little
as $39 per month. But beware of not-so-hidden installation costs,
including a setup fee of around $75 and $30 to $50 for a network
interface card. Sometimes the use of a cable modem is included in
the monthly fee, but not always. This little piece of hardware can
cost $200 to $300.
4. Because you share your cable connection with the people on your
block, it's easy for nosy neighbors to peek at your computer files.
One thing you can do right away is disable Windows' file- and print-sharing
features. In Windows 95/98, open the Network control panel, click
the File And Print Sharing button, and uncheck the two boxes in
the subsequent dialog box. In Windows 2000, select Start, Settings,
and then Network and Dial-up Connections. Right-click your cable
connection, choose Properties, and in the General tab, uncheck the
File And Printer Sharing For Microsoft Networks box.
What about just turning off your cable modem? "When the cable
modem restarts, it could take the device up to two to three minutes
to fully register with the network," says David Langlands,
a vice president for 21st Century Telecom Group, a cable provider
in Chicago. Before you turn the modem off, ask your cable provider
about any potential problems.
Now that you're familiar with the realities of DSL and cable, it's
time to decide which to buy. Because there are just about as many
reasons to choose DSL as there are to choose cable, we've put together
the following scorecard to lend a hand.
Any always-on Internet connection is vulnerable to hacker attacks.
It's possible to protect your computer to some extent: you can turn
it off, turn off your DSL or cable modem (if your provider says
this is OK), keep an up-to-date antivirus program running at all
times, and install personal firewall software. Or, better still,
ask your broadband provider to equip you with a dynamic IP address.
A unique security issue with cable is that the line is shared with
others in your area, which makes it easy for a neighbor to snoop
around your computer.
DSL opens your computer to similar security risks, according to
David Zhu, a senior consultant with X85 (an ASP provider for small
businesses) and former network engineer with a regional ISP. "If
your DSL provider does not have its own security measures to prevent
hacking and listening to traffic on the network, you are vulnerable,
too," he cautions.
Both cable and DSL monthly access fees get lower every day, and
you can find some decent deals by shopping around. Many providers
offer incentives such as a free modem or installation. For example,
the basic HomeOffice DSL package from Concentric Network Corporation
gives you 608-kbps download and 128-kbps upload speeds for about
$69 per month, with free installation and hardware if you sign a
one-year contract. Another Concentric package charges $89 per month
for 1.5-mbps download/384-kbps upload speeds. Higher speed DSL service
can easily cost $80 or more per month, with some flavors of DSL
for small businesses costing several hundred dollars per month.
So far, cable Internet service is often a bit cheaper than DSL:
$39.95 per month or less. In New York City, for example, Road Runner
Internet access from Time Warner Cable delivers 2-mbps download/300-kbps
upload speeds for $39.95 per month if you also get cable TV from
Time Warner; $59.95 if you don't. Installation costs $69 if you
have a network interface card; $99 if you don't.
DSL service originates from a handful of companies, including Covad,
NorthPoint, and a number of baby Bells. However, you typically order
the service from your local ISP.
The question of cable modem availability is pretty simple. Either
your local cable company offers Internet access or it doesn't. However,
if you live in a rural area, neither DSL nor cable may be available.
The final word on DSL vs. cable from Michael Koval: "I
totally prefer cable modems. Cable is cheaper, far more available
and as fast if not faster than DSL. The main issue is availability,
and cable's got it."