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    Fast Forward's Rob Pegoraro
    Shopping For an Internet Provider

    Friday, October 29, 1999 at 1 p.m.

    Rob Pegoraro
    Rob Pegoraro
    Share your tips, your stories and your questions with Rob Pegoraro at 1 p.m. this Friday, and you may help out a fellow reader avoid your fate! (Or emulate it, depending on how happy you are with your current provider.) He will also discuss the business, which is rapidly changing to include both free basic modem access and relatively affordable always-on, high-speed connections from cable-modem and DSL providers, and take questions about Fast Forward's fourth (!) annual guide to Washington-area Internet providers.

    Rob Pegoraro: Good afternoon. Thanks for joining us. Feel free to share your tips, your stories and your questions about Internet service providers. The business is rapidly and that means more options as well as increased confusion. So let's get started.

    Rockville, MD: Please comment on the low-priced local -DC- ISPs such as IBNC

    Rob Pegoraro: Hey all - welcome to this week's rap session. Today we're talking Internet providers--what do you look for, how do you find a good one and so on. I'll be talking about what I've learned from putting together this survey for the past four years (lesson #1: finding a quick takeout dinner after 8 p.m. is nearly impossible in our corner of downtown D.C.), but I also want to hear what you all "out there" have picked up in your own ISP shopping.

    I've got two corrections to make before we get rolling (we're so real-time here, it hurts): 1) Bell Atlantic's $20/month rate covers 150 hours of connect time, not unlimited; 2) Capital City Cyberlink shouldn't have been listed, as it's no longer based in the D.C. area and no longer provides toll-free tech support.

    So, let's go! Rockville's question is one I get a lot. The key thing to look for here is how long the company has been around. It's easy to jump into business, but it's harder to provide consistent, quality service over the years. But hey, that's just my opinion. Any clicksters out there with low-cost ISP experiences to share?

    Mclean, Va: Why was GTE and Epic Internet left off of the list of National ISP's? GTE.Net is listed under DSL but GTE.NEt has something close to 4 million subscribers nationwide. In addition, epic internet while smaller, also has a nationwide footprint and customer base.
    Just an FYI

    Rob Pegoraro: We get this one a lot too... we opted to list GTE under the DSL heading because DSL is in such demand now. Given that GTE represents a third of the available DSL providers in Prince William County, I elected to list it there.

    As for Epic, are you talking about Epoch Networks ? We listed them a couple of years ago, but never heard back from them for last year's survey. Anybody working PR for them in the house today?

    Arlington, VA: Are you or is anyone else aware of ISPs who offer worldwide roaming service other than or a local provider who offers IPASS such as I use and am satisfied accept for the price. Has anyone had any experience with how well the IPASS system works .

    Rob Pegoraro: If we list a provider as offering "extra-cost roaming," that indicates iPass (see or an equivalent service. Haven't used it myself--anybody in the audience today who has?

    Bethesda, MD: How does the very recent Earthlink-Mindspring merger effect the today's Post ISP results?

    I'm looking to move to a new ISP and visited both Earthlink and Mindspring's Web sites, but no real mention from either of them about signing up post-merger. This made a real difference to me because their offered plans can be substantially different -esp. cost of additional e-mail addresses-.

    Rob Pegoraro: Earthlink-Mindspring (Earthspring? Mindlink? actually, it'll be called Earthlink) won't be concluded until sometime this winter or next spring, so we listed them separately. They're still figuring out what the new rate schedule will be. Sorry we don't have more info on that, but we will update the online version when we do.

    Washington, DC: When, oh when, will backwater DC finally join the ranks of technologically advanced cities like Baltimore and get cable modem access?

    Rob Pegoraro: Frankly, I'd be happy if District Cablevision just got itself a Web page. I mean, these guys have to *fax* a rate schedule to people?!

    Last I talked to 'em, they said they were planning to start offering @Home service this winter. I am somewhat skeptical about that...

    Washington, D.C.: I'm really getting tired of using AOL--ads in my face, extra layer of complexity to the Internet, bare-bones browser, cool Internet software that doesn't work with AOL, etc.

    I signed on originally with AOL for their proprietary content, but now I'm wondering more and more: how can they possibly compete with the Internet's vast information at large? What is their "added value" at this point?

    I think everyday about switching to another ISP, but I'm caught by inertia -changing e-mail addresses, converting my kids' buddy lists, etc.-.

    My question: will AOL survive in their present form?

    Rob Pegoraro: So many people have predicted AOL's demise, D.C., but it's not going to happen. They've got 19 million customers now, and while it's not many people's cup of tea (your correspondent included) they're definitely doing something right.

    Sounds to me like you've just outgrown them. You should find somebody new, send out that change-of-address e-mail to everybody, move your buddy lists to AOL's Internet-only instant messenger software (hopefully, that's not too complicated), and try to stay friends with AOL. Ack, I'm channeling Carolyn Hax!

    Arlington, VA: Here's a question from a literate -but clueless- person: why does an ISP suddenly knock you off your connection to the internet? Or is it not the ISP's fault, but the computer? The ISP I have, Concentric, consistently does this -ie, each time I log on-. Is it just me that this happens to?

    Rob Pegoraro: If it's happening every time you log on *while you're doing stuff online*, yes, there's a problem. (Most providers disconnect users if they appear to be idle and just "camping out" on their modems.) See what Concentric's tech support says; I suspect they won't have any easy solutions to this. (It's unlikely that the phone company can help, from everything I've heard.)

    Rockville, MD: Hi Rob. At home, I have used Erols as an ISP for over five years. No problems. My problem is the firewall at work - I work for a large government agency. At my former agency - where there was no firewall - I used AOL Instant Messenger extensively to chat with my kids in college. There is no way that little me is going to get the network administrator to open up port 5190 for IM traffic. Now the question. Will a shell account - which I pay for - work as a conduit to let me send and receive messages and avoid the firewall? I'm looking for a creative solution to my problem without violating the security at this agency and getting the FBI on my back. Thanks.

    Rob Pegoraro: Depends on how the firewall is configured, Rockville. At some places I've worked, even something as simple as RealAudio was blocked, but I could telnet out to my ISP. (We didn't explain shell accounts well enough in the article, BTW; for the uninitiated, they're a text-only window into your account, accessible with a "telnet" program. Very geeky, little used.)

    Oakton, VA: Is Media General's Road Runner cable-modem service a good deal? Do they provide good service when problems arise. Is installation painless?

    Rob Pegoraro: Judging by connection speeds and such, it is. We've been trying to get one of our writers hooked up with an account, but all the people living in Fairfax are in parts of the county not wired for cable-modem service. (True story: If Media General/Cox sticks with the rollout schedule they outlined to me in April, the last neighborhoods to get wired will be some of the wealthiest ones in Fairfax, around McLean. Perhaps they're trying to stick it to Steve Case? :)

    Anybody in the house today with RoadRunner experiences to share?

    Elkton MD: I've been unable to connect to my current provider during the day, and have great difficulty in the evenings. Rather than the usual squeal and bongs, I just get a very high-pitched squeal. They are trying to tell me that it's a problem in the phone lines...that doesn't explain why a- we get through with less difficulty during non-business hours, and, more importantly, 2- we can get through to a competing provider with the _same exchange_ at any time...I hate to go through the hassle of switching, but what else is there to do?

    Rob Pegoraro: Maybe not much. Have you tried dialing in with a different modem from your house? Sometimes the provider's modems won't play nice with the user's modem. If that doesn't fix things, the problem probably is in the phone line, and you probably will have to jump ship to fix the problem for good.

    Falls Church, VA: I noticed Alta Vista has free internet access but I hear their e-mail is not a "POP" enabled e-mail. Should I wait until they upgrade their e-mail? And what is the difference between "POP" e-mail and "NON-POP" e-mail? Thanks

    Rob Pegoraro: POP = Post Office Protocol. That means the kind of mail you can fetch and read with a regular e-mail program, like Eudora, Outlook Express or Netscape Messenger. AltaVista only offers Web e-mail, which can still work but is a bird of a different feather.

    Rockville, MD: Two questions:
    1. If DSL is said to be unavailable in a given location by Bell Atlantic, would the same be true for other DSL providers.
    2. If DSL is unavailable, is there enough difference between 56K modem connection and ISDN to justify the extra cost of ISDN.

    Rob Pegoraro: Two answers!

    1) No. Covad has wired up quite a few more "central offices" than Bell. See to check your number.

    2) No. ISDN, IMHO, is an exceptionally bad deal. It's overpriced as hell and doesn't speed up your connection by much (maxes out at 128 kbps).

    PEARL HARBOR HI: Mr Pegoraro,
    I travel overseas on business-goofing off & have been using COMPUSERVE 2000 because of their world-wide network of local numbers, but their e-mail handling software leaves a bit to be desired. Is there any other ISP competition out there with a good world-wide network. Thanks R.Hess

    Rob Pegoraro: IBM's provider,, has, or had, numbers all around the world. But AT&T bought that operation and is still digesting it--I'd expect to see the access folded into AT&T WorldNet in some way.

    Any other suggestions for our reader in Hawaii?

    Washington, DC: I've read your guide and am still hopelessly confused. My main interest is email, although I am beginning to use the internet for personal research, as well as WP's interactive sessions like this. What should I look for -in addition to cost-?

    Rob Pegoraro: I'll try to help, D.C. I suggest looking for somebody who:

    1) provides a full set of software for your computer;

    2) has somebody taking tech-support calls 24 hrs/day;

    3) has info on their Web page in English. If their site talks about their burstable T-1 options or VPN services, look elsewhere. Do business with somebody you can understand from the first conversation.

    Clarksville, MD: Are there any ISPs accessible from the DC area that support PPP multilink when using analog 56k modems? I like my 2x56K ISDN and the bandwidth it provides, but I want to move away from metered billing. Cable-xDSL are not currently options where I live.

    Rob Pegoraro: Not too many of them do, Clarksville--I read a while back that CrossLink does, but nobody else comes to mind at the moment.

    What we're talking about here is the ability to dial into an ISP with two modems, using two phone lines, and then "bond" those two connections into one 112-kbps connection. It's also called "Shotgun" sometimes. The approach is a total kludge, but if cable and DSL aren't options it's certainly a better deal than ISDN.

    Chevy Chase, MD: I currently use Bell Atlantic as ISP for my Mac PPC6500-275, but they only offer Netscape 3.0.1 and no other. My broker no longer accepts calls using this browser.

    What ISP wants Mac users and offers a CD with either Netscape 4x or IE 4x?

    Rob Pegoraro: They're not still offering Netscape 3.x, are they? That's not what their rep is telling me.

    Anyway: Any ISP with a clue should be offering the current version of a browser. But if they don't, you can download Netscape 4.7 (takes some time, so it's best done late at night); Apple has also included a copy of Netscape on all of its recent operating-system updates.

    Ashburn, VA: I live no more then 2 miles from AOL Headquarters in Dulles, VA. Can you help explain why AOL can be so highly regarded and able to continue signing up users, when they have horrible response time,log on lines busy, dial up time takes forever, and all users complain about lines being dropped or your kicked off. You would think if you lived almost next door to AOL they would supply better service. Also very low BPS.

    An unsatisfied customer.

    Rob Pegoraro: Are you still using AOL, Ashburn? That's the thing--a company can provide horrible service, but if its customers stick around it's not going to learn any kind of lesson.

    Tulsa, Oklahoma: I am considering subscribing to South Western Bell for a DSL line which costs $40-month. As an introductory, the company waives the set up charge of $198. What are the advantages, disadvantages and items to beware? Thank you.

    Rob Pegoraro: Uh, this is kinda outside of area of competence :)... but the big thing to watch out with a DSL installation is how long it will take and how many times either the phone company or your ISP will have to reset things to try to make it work. This isn't a game for the impatient.

    Bowie, MD: Next year will Washington Post allow ISP's to be listed under more than one heading? For example, a lot of DSL ISP's also offer nationwide dialup service. But they had to decide which was more important to be listed under DSL or Nationwide.

    Rob Pegoraro: We, not the companies, made that call on who to list where, actually. The basic problem is paper, or lack thereof; we don't have room to list people twice. Maybe we should've included a "see blah, blah blah under the DSL providers heading" item at the end of our list of national ISPs?

    Oxon Hill, MD: Re: Rockville's DSL questions. Perhaps Rob might explain the difference between ADSL and SDSL. Bell=ADSL only for now, other DSL backbone providers support SDSL as well.

    Rob Pegoraro: Why yes, Rob can :)

    As Oxon Hill notes, there's ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line), which is all that Bell Atlantic offers. Then there's also SDSL and IDSL, which don't run as fast but can cover more ground--you don't have to live so close to the nearest phone company central office. Problem is, not too many companies sell SDSL or IDSL connections at residential rates; you can spot the ones that do in our chart by looking for unusual download/upload rates like 144/144, 162/162 or 192/192.

    Arlington VA: IBM which is now works easly and quickly. They have local numbers in all the "regular countries" most of us visit and some that we might not want to visit. Also contrary to your list they have numbers in all 50 states plus an 800 number with a surcharge. The only problem is that they now have a surcharge out of North America which together with the high local telephone charges makes any lengthy connection quite expensive even if you have a local number.

    Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the update, Arlington. (FYI, we listed only "48 states" because we already say they have connections in Md. and Va.) I hope Hawaii's still on the line...

    North Potomac: I think the smaller ISPs have the ability to offer better customer service. My favorite ISPs -Heller Information Services, Rockville, MD- does not have 50,000 subscribers, but offers one of the most highly rated services in your past surveys. Can you comment on this?

    Thanks, Paul

    Rob Pegoraro: That wouldn't be Paul as in Paul Heller, would it?

    Anyhow--we do hear lots of good words about the small local shops that have been around for years, really know their stuff, can offer custom services the big players don't and know their customers by name. One of the big reasons we do this survey is to spotlight these folks, so people know it's not just a choice between AOL and AT&T and Earthlink.

    Falls Church, VA: I have used Erols for two years. It has been good for me until the recent month. They are transitioning to Starpower after the merger, now I wonder if connection probs, busy support lines & other probs. are a sign of the future?I chose erols 'cause it was local now I wonder if it will be like aol.

    Rob Pegoraro: I don't think you have too much to worry about; for one thing, Starpower/RCN bought Erols a good year or two ago. If they were going to screw up their service, I'd wager it wouldn't happened by now. But keep your eyes open and make sure you're still getting your $$ worth.

    Rockville, MD: Why is CAIS Internet no longer listed? From what I've been told, they still offer dial up access.

    Rob Pegoraro: They do, and we did send our questionnaire out to them. Unfortunately, they didn't reply until, like, yesterday, which was way too late to get into print. We'll have it in the online version when we put this year's data up on this site.

    Oxon Hill, MD: Regarding 'Clarksville's' question, RadixNet supports bonded 56k connectivity, but the only couple of folks using it have already converted to SDSL -they're lucky that their CO is SDLS "lit"-. You can also get around ISDN usage charges by setting up what we refer to as 'centrex' or dedicated ISDN...flat monthly mileage charge only. BUT, all your previous comments are indeed on the mark, I$DN is no great deal unless that's all you can get!

    Rob Pegoraro: I'm going to guess this is Holly Wallace or somebody else at RadixNet. Steve Case is here somewhere too, right? :)

    Chevy Chase, MD: 2nd try:

    I just got Bell Atlantic's CD 2 weeks ago, and Netscape 3.0.1 is what is on it. That's the truth. I now have five of their CD's, all with 3.0.1!

    Their tech support has offered to send me 4.x, but what arrives is again 3.0.1!

    I am trying to upgrade to the CD provided by my broker to 4.5, but with the BA connection it freezes my Mac,and the broker's tech support cannot help.


    Rob Pegoraro: Good grief. Sounds like they need to upgrade their wetware (the droids in tech support who keep sending out the wrong CD) more than the software.

    Netscape 4.5 shouldn't be locking up your Mac in any case--in my experience, it's a lot more stable than 3.0. What's BA have to say about this?

    Washington DC: Hi Rob,

    This is Daniel Greenberg. I don't know how much of this you want to use, but to answer the DSL question, a neighbor of mine had nothing but problems getting Bell Atlantic DSL installed. He had to miss almost a week's worth of work for installer visits, he's had one replacement modem and may need another, and the service has been intermittent. -it was out yesterday-. BA did give him a refund when he complained, though, so kudos on customer service, anyway.

    Rob Pegoraro: Hey Daniel - mirrors many of the stories I've heard. One of the other freelancers waited something like three months to get a working DSL connection through Covad (he lives in Palisades, where BA didn't offer DSL).

    Washington, DC: Hi Rob-
    We have an office of five people, and three dial-up accounts with one of the major companies, as well as a web hosting account, where we all have email boxes at our domain name that we use our dial-up account to access. we all use the web a lot, and hate that we have to sign on and off a number of times a day. We also spend $60 a month for the dial-up, and then pay the phone company for five modem lines. Would be worthwhile for us to move to using a router and having some office e-mail access that allows all of the us to access the web at once, 24 hours a day. If so, where do we start?Any thoughts?

    Rob Pegoraro: That's a lot of extra money to pay each month, D.C. I'd talk to a DSL provider, who can probably wire up the office for considerably less than what you're paying now. Setting up your own mail server in-house is a different issue; it kinda depends on how many people in your office have propellors on their hats.

    BTW, since we've got so many questions here, we're going to keep chatting a little longer. Keep those cards and letters coming...

    Arlington, VA: For those of us who have abandoned mere paper for the joys of cyberspace, will your ISP chart eventually be available on the web site? It didn't show up as a separate article in today's online print edition.

    Rob Pegoraro: Hey, what's wrong with paper? But seriously... we're processing this data to turn into something Web-ifiable. It should be up on our site soon (and if I give you any date more exact than that, my producer will run me over with her car!)

    Tyson's Corner, VA: Hi Rob. Are there any good quality "free' -advertising based- ISPs out there?

    Rob Pegoraro: There are free ISPs. There are good ISPs. I haven't tried enough of the free ones to know which ones cover both bases. AltaVista, for instance, worked alright on my computer, but it's got the most annoying ad policy imaginable, and there's no real e-mail account.

    Fortunately, it doesn't cost anything to try everybody out. Unfortunately, you don't have much grounds to complain if they provide poor service...

    Oxon Hill, MD: Hello Rob! I've been reading with a great deal of interest the questions and answers this afternoon. In particular response to the DSL-related questions-comments, I'm going to take the liberty to list fifteen -15- questions you should ask of any DSL provider you are shopping:
    1. Which DSL providers are in my telco Central Office -CO-?
    2. How many cable-feet is my location from my CO?
    3. What speeds are available to me?
    4. What is the speed in each direction?
    5. Is this ADSL or SDSL?
    6. Are there any install charges to increase the speed?
    7. How long will it take to increase my speed once ordered?
    8. What equipment or configuration changes will need to be made?
    9. What is the mfgr-model# of the recommended DSL Customer Premise Equipment -CPE-?
    10. What DSL speeds can be used with this device? -see item 7. above-.
    11. Where is the ISPs primary backbone access for DSL customers located?
    12. How many backbone circuits does the ISP have and to how many different providers? -redundancy=safety-
    13. Is OK to host a server on your DSL circuit, even if you do not plan to right away?
    14. Who-what company is responsible for such things as your Email, DNS, UseNet and customer support services? Outsourcing these services is very commonplace with many DSL providers, and you should understand who is responsible for all aspects of your DSL circuit.
    15. Long-term contracts required? You should be able to obtain DSL service on a month-month basis.

    For what it's worth, our thoughts!

    Rob Pegoraro: I was afraid those were 15 questions for *me* to answer, Oxon Hill...

    But: What she/he said. The key thing is how many "wire feet" your home is from the central office, which isn't the same thing as as-the-crow-flies feet.

    Bethesda, MD: I have two ISPs, including heller...but my problem is that my phone service is so bad that I am often disconnected withing 5 minutes or so, and even when I'm connected 56K...I'm lucky to get 500 bytes per second, and that's no joke. Is it possible that this is a modem problem and not the phone lines? Bell Atl has been here -home- four times, and they say...yep, it's noisy, but we can't fix it. Help! I'd be glad to pay for cable, but it's not available here.

    Rob Pegoraro: Well, since it seems like we've got Paul Heller on the line... wanna help out your customer?

    BTW: Cable-modem service *isn't* available in Bethesda? Absurd. One of these days, we're going to have to do some sort of map showing who has broadband where, which I suspect will surprise a lot of people

    Silver Spring, MD: What do think the future of Compuserve as network now that it a subsidiary of AOL?

    Rob Pegoraro: I wasn't sure what to expect would happen to CompuServe; in the past, AOL hasn't hesitated to axe services that it doesn't think are strategic. (Witness, for instance, the Global Network Navigator flat-rate ISP AOL set up, then shut down the second it moved to flat-rate pricing.)

    But AOL seems to have put a lot of capital into reestablishing CompuServe as a competitive online service--a big change from the previous management, which was basically running it into the ground. I think it'll be around for a while.

    Bowie, Maryland: I agree with Paul...smaller ISP's allow the consumer to feel at home. Smaller ISP's also allow customers -consumers and business customers alike- to get customized service and even work out a deal or two. You may also experience less busys since some small ISPs like Capital City Internet have more bandwidth than customers. Rob what are two major factors that you feel seperate the big guys from the small ones?

    Rob Pegoraro: Looking at that city and that message, I'm going to guess that this is Norris Sydnor with, yes?

    1) Chance to get a user ID that looks like you, as I wrote today;

    2) Ability to get geekier custom services like support for personal domain names, CGI scripts in Web pages, shell accounts.

    We will continue to play "spot the ISP" owner for the next few minutes....

    North Potomac, MD: Rob

    I'm not Paul Heller from HIS, but one of his happy customers.

    Paul Stauffer

    Rob Pegoraro: Aw, heck. Thought I had you pegged there. Sure you can't help this poor guy in Bethesda with his slow connections? :)

    Leesburg, VA: Whatever became of DirectPC? Anyone with any experience with them?

    Rob Pegoraro: DirecPC is a satellite-access service run by Hughes. They're still around, but we didn't include them in this survey. The service is of rather limited reach and utility; you need to have southern-sky exposure, you need to buy a somewhat expensive dish, download speeds max out at 400 kbps, and you still need a modem to send out data. See for the nitty-gritty.

    Washington, D.C.: Comments on "still using AOL":

    I'm still using AOL, but would jump in a minute if another ISP would offer my following wish list:

    -1- Nationwide Web access to my e-mail -I want to be able to check-send e-mail from my sister's computer in San Diego even if that means going through her AOL account!-

    -2- Some type of parental filtering -at the server level?- for my kids. Yes, there is standalone software out there, but why-oh-why do I need to geek-out keeping xxx-rated responses to search engines requests from my children? It's ridiculous.

    -3- If AOL can offer up 7 e-mail addresses in its price, why can't you? -and BTW, $5-month per extra e-mail address is TOO MUCH!-

    -4- reasonable unlimited access fees. For what I'm asking here and above, I'd gladly pay $29.99-month -yes, more than AOL, just gimme what I want-

    -5- Make setup simple, simple, simple so that even my 70-year-old father can do it. If there's one thing AOL does well it's hold your hand through the setup -and updating- process. I've been in computers for 20 years and I am sick of the user-UNfriendliness of software.

    ----> Wake up ISPs: Do all of the above, and I'm yours!

    Rob Pegoraro: Good points, all. To add some context to some:

    1) You can get that Web e-mail access for free with *any* regular ISP--just open up an account with Yahoo or Hotmail, then set it up to check your regular mailbox. It's pretty straightforward.

    2) Only a few folks offer this kind of server-level filtering (as opposed to giving your software to install themselves).

    3) Check the directory; a lot more people support multiple e-mail addresses than did last year.

    4) You shouldn't have to pay more than $20/month for anybody offering nationwide access.

    5) Ah, there's the rub. Earthlink is one of the few nationwide providers that seems to be aggressive about fixing this problem. I saw an early version of their 5.0 software at the Internet World trade show last month; they're really trying to eat AOL's lunch with that.

    Chevy Chase, MD: 3rd try:

    Bell Atlantic's tech support says "I've never done this with a Mac, but I'll try." and later "No, we don't have anyone here who knows about or uses a Mac." and finally "We'll send this to 2nd level"

    2nd level tech support says "You have to go back to Schwab tech support" and Schwab tech support says "you'll have to go back to Bell Atlantic tech support"

    I've been trying to find a way to get good service for six months, and total failure so far.

    Rob Pegoraro: Man, I hate it when that happens. If there were only a way to lock the BA and Schwab tech-support people in a room together...

    Bowie, Maryland: Now Rob that wasn't nice. No it's not Norris Sidnor, but I am a faithful customer. And I just thought I'd share my point of view.

    PS You're loosing at "Spot the ISP" owner. =-

    Rob Pegoraro: OK, OK. But we really do have somebody from RadixNet here. I suppose that's a third way that small ISPs separate themselves from the big ones; the little companies don't advertise much, but the good little ones don't need to.

    Oxon Hill, MD: Rob. Fred Schmidt-RadixNet again! -Unlike Steve Case-AOL, we care about what users think-! Another quick comment about distance from the CO, you are correct, that is indeed expressed in wire-feet -not actual distance-. The pre-qualification tools used by the DSL backbone providers typically use algorithms that approximate the distance, and the actual may vary a good bit. You will not know for sure what bandwidth you are actually capable of until the connection is installed. In fact, I just had SDSL installed at my home this very morning -Holly let me arrive late!-. I 'pre-qualed' at 1040K SDSL, after testing it turns out I can only get 784K. -Bummer-

    Rob Pegoraro: More good points about DSL service...

    Washington, DC: d'ya think that that DSL service will ever be free-ad-subsidized? I know it wouldn't happen anytime soon, sure.

    Rob Pegoraro: Once upon a time, I would have said "no #$%&!! way," on account of both the cost and the complexity. But these days, who knows? There's so much experimentation and invention going on, the venture capitalists will fund just about any idea, no matter who loopy it seems. I wouldn't be surprised to see a company offer free, ad-subsidized DSL at some point. I also wouldn't be surprised to see the same company tank in six months.

    Well, that's about it for now--half an hour past our original schedule! Thanks to everybody for some great questions here; come back next Friday at 1, when the insanity continues with a strange ritual we call "Tech Support Friday." That is, you tell us your computer-related problems, and we flail about madly to try to offer advice on how to solve them. It's not to be missed.

    Y'all come back soon now...

    - Rob

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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