Lawrence residents will soon have access to high-speed Internet service via cable television lines.
Like sunflowers blooming along a country road in August, Internet service providers (ISPs) have been popping up throughout the region.
While some regional and national providers are offering local telephone dial-up service to Lawrence, the city has only one ISP within its borders, Internet Direct, 2400 W. 31st.
Doug Heacock, director of the Kansas Research and Education Network at Kansas University, said most of the services charge about $20 per month.
"One of the main things that seems to be important to people is reliability," Heacock said. "They want to know that connection is going to be there for a while."
When most people commit to an e-mail account, which is usually provided in a basic package of Internet access features, they want to make sure that company is going to be around for a long time, he said.
"You would go nuts if you had a post office box and the post office went out of business every six months," he said.
Heacock said there are many ISPs that are just barely making it financially.
"It's not difficult to get in business, but it is difficult to stay in business and be profitable," he said.
What's also important is customer service, he said.
"Not everybody is an Internet guru, and people want to have someone to call when they have questions and they can't get their software to work," he said. "The best thing to do is to talk around to people who have used the service and ask them what their overall impression is."
Eighteen times faster
Sunflower Cablevision, 644 N.H., Lawrence's cable television provider, will enter the ISP market next month with a new high-speed Internet service using cable television lines.
The new service, called Sunflower Datavision, has been under testing for a little more than a year, said Dennis Knipfer, Sunflower's general manager.
"We'll begin installing in limited areas in Lawrence beginning in September," Knipfer said.
The basic residential cost will be $39.95 per month for unlimited access time.
That's about double the cost of most telephone ISPs, but it will still be attractive to regular Internet users, KU's Heacock said.
"In the first place, it doesn't tie up your phone line. In the second place, it's much, much faster," Heacock said. "We're talking about a true Ethernet connection. ... You're not subject near as much to the degradation of the phone lines."
The advantages to using the cable system over telephone lines is the speed that you transmit data, Knipfer said.
He said the "black box" modems that will connect cable lines to a computer became available only a few months ago.
They will access the Internet at 512,000 bits per second -- 18 times faster than conventional telephone modem speeds of 28,800 bits per second.
"The main complaint you'll hear about the Internet is the speed," Knipfer said. "With graphic content and large files, it takes a long time for that picture to paint down the computer screen. At this speed, it's almost like turning a page."
Or switching a TV channel.
"If there are 6 million computers on the Internet, we've added 6 million channels," he said.
He said updates on areas where installation will be available next month will be on the company's World Wide Web page, at http://www.sunflower.com.
To use the service, subscribers will need a Windows or Macintosh computer with an Ethernet card installed. Several computer services in the city can provide that service, Knipfer said.
"What we supply is the cable modem and the Internet address," he said.
"We think the first people who hook up will be the hard-core Internet users who already have their favorite software," he said.
Knipfer said the cablevision lines will be the same ones current cable TV subscribers use.
"You can have your TV on and be watching different channels and have your computer surfing the Web and be listening to your digital cable radio in the other room, plus have your other TV on downstairs," he said.
Knipfer said a few cable television companies are beginning to offer the service.
"We're definitely at the crest of the wave," he said.
Surge of customers
Internet Direct, a local telephone-based ISP, has about 3,500 subscribers in all of its markets, which include Lawrence, Topeka, Kansas City and Wichita, said Doyle Gerard, president.
The company, which has been in service for about a year, charges $18.95 a month for unlimited access, he said.
Subscribers need to have a computer that will run Windows or Macintosh program and at least a 14.4 baud modem, Gerard said.
"We really strive for really top-quality tech support, not only on start-up, but on a continuing basis," he said. "We're a full-service provider and allow people to store personal Web pages on our server at no additional cost."
Those who sign up get a start-up diskette that includes software programs that provide access to the Internet, he said.
The company, which Gerard said is probably the largest ISP in Kansas in terms of subscribers, also offers connections to the Internet on high-speed telephone data lines.
Heacock said he has also found that several other regional and national ISPs are beginning to offer service in the Lawrence area.
Among those are C-J Network, based in Topeka; Netspace, based in Salina; Smartnet, which is serving northeast Kansas; and Tyrell, based in Kansas City, Mo.
If you're searching for an ISP, you can get go to a search engine on the World Wide Web, such as Yahoo, and search for the Web pages of Internet providers, Heacock said.
You can also find a list of ISPs at http://thelist.iworld.com.