All right, so you're hooked. You've had a taste of the Internet and now you really want more from it than you seem to be able to squeeze through that little 28.8 kilobits-per-second modem, and you're ready to bite the bullet and do what it takes to get a faster connection. Options?
If you're serious about your need for speed, there are two technologies you should know about -- one of which is here in Lawrence today, and one of which is coming any day now.
If you have access to the World Wide Web, point your favorite browser to http://www.sunflower.com/data/index.html, where you'll find the Sunflower DataVision page. Sunflower DataVision is a new service of Sunflower Cablevision, Lawrence's cable TV company, which offers high-speed connections to the Internet via your existing coaxial TV cable.
If you already have cable TV in your home, you can add high-speed Internet access for about $40 a month (plus installation and cable modem deposit). When you subscribe to this new service, you receive a cable modem -- a box that attaches to your cable and your computer. With some extra hardware you can plug up to four computers into the cable modem, and all can use the Internet at once. Several e-mail accounts are also provided.
The service is not yet available in all areas of the city because there are some areas where the existing cable equipment is still being upgraded to handle two-way data transmission. A map on the Sunflower Web page shows areas where the service is available.
One of the appealing things about using cable wiring for data is that there is so much of it in place. It is estimated that some 12 million homes in the United States are able to support cable modems. But given that there are perhaps 10 times as many telephones already in use in this country, wouldn't it be great if there were some way to get high-speed Internet access over those lines?
It turns out that there is a way -- it's called Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line, or ADSL. It's not really here yet, although at least one Internet service provider in the Chicago area has begun selling ADSL connections there. ADSL provides asymmetric high speed 'Net access; in other words, the speed of the data coming into your computer is different from the speed of the data that is sent out of your computer. In the case of ADSL, the speed can be staggering: up to 6 megabits per second (Mbps) downstream (to your computer), and up to 640 Kbps upstream (from your computer). Of course, you probably can't buy that kind of connection yet -- in Chicago, and in a recent test project in Houston, subscribers were given up to T1 speed (1.5 Mbps) downstream and 64 Kbps upstream.
ADSL isn't really a line at all, in spite of what the name suggests. The line is a simple phone line -- probably the very same wire you use to call Aunt Nell. What makes it ADSL is the use of ADSL modems at either end of the wire. Several manufacturers are working on ADSL modems even as you read this, and though not widely available today, it is estimated that they will begin showing up in numbers in 1997, perhaps commonly available in 1998.
What ADSL will cost isn't clear yet. Tariffs have not been set for ADSL services in many areas, and ADSL modems are not widely available. The Chicago ISP that has begun offering ADSL sells it for $200 per month, plus installation fees and the like. That's steep for an individual, to be sure. But considering that it is about 50 times faster than a conventional modem, it could be worth it to some. And the cost of the equipment may well come down in time.
Of course, if you need ADSL today, forget it -- some are saying it could be 1999 or even 2000 before we really see widespread use, and even then it could cost a mighty tall stack of dollars, at least for a while.
-- 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