It would appear that the rumors we've been hearing are true -- Sunflower Cablevision is apparently just about ready to roll out a new Internet access service for Lawrence cable television customers. Sunflower Datavision will be an add-on to your existing cable TV service, and will provide an Ethernet connection to the Internet via the cable. The new service is being tested now and should be available to limited areas sometime in September.
Subscribing to the new service will require that you obtain a "cable modem" from Sunflower (in return for a cash deposit), and installation of the service by the company. You will also need an Ethernet network interface card in your home computer, unless your computer has an Ethernet interface built in.
Once installed, your Sunflower Datavision connection will cost about $40 per month. That's about twice the going rate for a conventional local dial-up Internet account that uses modems and phone lines, but for some Internet users, the advantages will be more than worth the higher price.
The speed advantage alone will convince some Internet folks to "go cable." I am told that the cable connection will run at more than 500 kilobits per second. This isn't as fast as the Ethernet in your local-area network at the office, which runs about 10 megabits per second, but compared with 28.8 kilobits per second for the fastest conventional modems, it is a significant improvement. Secondly, using this connection won't tie up the family phone line or necessitate a second phone line for data. Each cable connection household will also be able to connect up to four computers on their cable simultaneously (with the the addition of the appropriate networking hardware).
The other significant difference between a cable TV Internet connection and a dial-up connection is that the cable connection is a somewhat more direct connection to the Internet. While phone/modem connections require the use of SLIP (Serial Line Internet Protocol) or PPP (Point-to-Point Protocol) software to establish an Internet connection over the phone line, Sunflower Datavision users will be able to dispense with dialing scripts altogether. The cable connection should be up and operational all the time.
Cable modem technology has been a hot area of research and development during the past few years, and many cable television companies across the country have been investing in and experimenting with this technology for some time now. It isn't clear exactly what effect all of this will have on existing local Internet Service Providers and on the industry in general, but I would expect to see the already-high competition level turned up a notch.
If you are interested in learning more about the technology used to provide this relatively high-bandwidth connection to the Internet, you would do well to take a long look at a World Wide Web page developed by MIT graduate student David Gingold. He works with the MIT research program on communications policy, and has been researching this technology for some time. His Web page, titled "Cable Modem Resources on the Web" (http://rpcp.mit.edu/~gingold/cable/), is a fairly comprehensive collection of pointers to cable modem manufacturers, test projects, papers, articles and other kinds of Internet-based cable modem technology resources. He has done an admirable job of documenting the state of the technology from every conceivable angle.
All that's left for me to do is to figure out how to present my development plan for Phases 1 through 4 of the Heacock Home Family Network to my wife -- she's in charge of funding these kinds of projects.
-- Doug Heacock is director of the Kansas Research and Educational Network at Kansas University. You may address questions to him in care of the Lawrence Journal-World, 609 N.H., Lawrence 66044, or e-mail him at heacock