Buying broadband

Residents inundated with plethora of options, packages

Although broadband has come to Craig in several forms, obstacles still exist for some residents, and many others are wondering which company to choose.

Customers' broadband choices likely will depend on where they live, how they use the Internet, and how much bandwidth they require or are willing to pay for.

First of all, what is broadband?

Essentially, broadband refers to technology that has increased the speed of electronic data transmission. Many first became aware of 14k, 28k, and eventually 56k modems in the 1990s. Technology now exists to transmit data five, ten or even 100 times faster than dialup modems can. Also, broadband is always on, there's no dialing or connecting once the link is installed.

At least four companies offer local broadband services in Craig using primarily three technologies -- cable, wireless and DSL.

Cable broadband comes to your house through the cable you probably already have. Bresnan Communications' cable broadband in Craig offers higher bandwidth than similarly priced wireless or DSL. It's sometimes knocked for being more prone to security breaches because of shared connections. But since anyone connected to the Internet should use at least personal firewall software, cable's risk doesn't seem to outweigh that of other broadband technology. In other words, if your computer is connected to the Internet, you face security issues, as many people found out with the msblaster worm in August.

Digital subscriber line, or DSL, carries a data connection over copper telephone lines. The host company sends a signal carrying data -- such as Internet traffic -- and a signal carrying voice over the same line. A DSL modem at the client's location picks out the data signal and transmits it to the client's computer, or a router. A router sends the signal to other computers at the client's home or office.

Wireless broadband travels at high radio frequencies between relay sites owned by the host company to the clients location. A radio transceiver is mounted on the client's residence. Wires connect the transceiver to one or more computers inside.

All three broadband technologies have limitations.

With cable, you must be in an area served by the cable company. If you can't get cable television, you can't get cable broadband. Bresnan Communications' coverage area includes the city of Craig and Shadow Mountain Village.

DSL customers also face distance issues. The phone line that connects the customer's residence to the central office must be no longer than 15,000 to 20,000 feet. Outside this range, the DSL signal gathers too much interference. NC Telecom and Springsips sell DSL in Craig. The central office where phone lines terminate in Craig is in the 500 block of Russell Street. NC Telecom and Springsips can look up a customer's phone number in a database to determine how many feet of cable lie between the customer and the central office. It should be noted that many third-party companies can sell DSL over Qwest phone lines. Buyers should be clear about how much the connection costs and how much the Internet service costs. Some companies charge these separately. NC Telecom and Springsips prices include the connection and the Internet service provider fee.

To receive wireless broadband, a customer must have a clear line-of-sight to one of the host company's local relay towers. Trees, buildings or geography can block the signals and prohibit service. Amigo.Net sells wireless broadband in Craig. To accommodate Craig's unique geography and reach more customers, Amigo.Net has set up 4 towers in Craig. Amigo.Net representatives can determine if a customer's location is capable of receiving wireless broadband by asking if the customer can see a relay tower, or Amigo.Net can conduct on-site signal strength tests.

All of the technologies can service users ranging from casual surfers and shoppers as well as online gamers, graphics enthusiasts and even professional telecommuters.

The basic broadband cable, DSL, and wireless packages offered by companies in Craig all start at least at 256k, except Springsips' 192k connection. This certainly is enough to enhance a casual user's experience of the Internet and can be used to view streaming media and participate in online games. However, those who use the Internet professionally, for serious gaming, or connect several workstations at one location probably will opt for higher bandwidths.

Bandwidth simply refers to the size of the "pipe" connecting your house to the Internet. How much electronic data, in theory, can be pushed to you at once? It is usually measured in kilobits per second. That does not mean kilobytes per second. While kilobytes are familiar to many people who deal with computer files, kilobits may not be. Bits are the digital signals representing data. Groups of eight bits are called a byte. A kilobyte is 1,024 bytes.

Another factor affecting the speed of Internet surfing is called latency. It is the time it takes any single, arbitrarily small piece of data to travel from your computer to the computer where the Web site you're viewing is located. It's knows as "ping time." While wireless broadband has more latency than both cable and DSL, it generally has less than standard dialup modems (about 50 thousandths of a second).

Satellite broadband is different from land-based wireless broadband. Satellite broadband suffers greatly from latency because the orbiting machines that transmit the signals are so far from earth. A signal's round trip takes a second or more. This means that if one clicks on a link on a Web page, it can take longer for the next page to load, and this can be frustrating for users. The increased latency of satellite broadband makes it virtually unused by online gamers, even though the technology can support very high bandwidth. Satellite broadband generally is not recommended unless one lives outside the coverage area of other technologies, although larger businesses often use it to communicate with computers and databases at distant corporate offices.

Cable and DSL have low latency, at 10 to 20 thousandths of a second.

All of the technologies require installation of some type, and all require special equipment.

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com.

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