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Fast Forward by Rob Pegoraro
We'd Like a Bit More, For a Little Less

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These days, cable services have the widest reach, since most have completed system upgrades to extend high-speed Internet access to all their subscribers.

DSL, by contrast, generally won't work if more than 18,000 feet of copper wire links your home and the nearest telephone "central office." People living in the more rustic parts of the Washington area -- and even a few close-in spots -- may find they're out of reach.

If you can get both cable and DSL, the most important difference is choice. Most cable systems offer only one service on their lines, their own. With DSL, even though most lines are owned by one company, Verizon, you can buy service from dozens of providers. So if you have particular needs in Internet service -- say, parental controls or a bigger e-mail inbox -- DSL is the way to go.

Get far enough in the country, though, and neither cable or DSL may work. Then you'd have to turn to satellite broadband, in which a small dish downloads and uploads data to a satellite. But your data's 44,600-mile round trip will punish attempts at real-time interactivity, such as online games.

Lastly, there's wireless access, the newest variety of broadband. It's still in a birth phase, which means not every provider will survive, things are a little buggy, and the market hasn't picked one technology (most companies use standard WiFi, but others employ longer-range "fixed wireless").

But because it's so cheap to deploy, wireless works in many places where cable or DSL can't, and often at prices that undercut both of those wire-bound technologies.

So what's not to like about broadband? The lack of more under-$40 services. I've yet to meet anybody who got broadband and would ever willingly retreat back to dial-up. Many dial-up users, however, still seem spooked by the idea of doubling their Internet access costs. So why not sell always-on access at "only" 256 or 384 Kbps for $25 or $30 a month? What's the industry waiting for?

Living with technology, or trying to? E-mail Rob Pegoraro at rob@twp.com.

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