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April 27, 1997

DSL lines promise
faster link to Internet

By Timothy C. Barmann

This is the third in a series of columns about high-speed Internet access coming to Rhode Island.

It seems we will never escape acronyms when in comes to computers. Here's one that a local Internet access provider wants to drill into your head: DSL.

It stands for Digital Subscriber Line, a service that allows you to use your telephone line to link to the Internet at speeds hundreds of times faster than with a traditional modem. You can even make phone calls while your computer is on line over your single telephone line.

(To make it even more confusing, there are several different types of DSL technologies with similar acronyms, such as ADSL, or Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line.)

The reason that East Greenwich-based InteleCom Data Systems wants you to remember DSL is because it hopes to blanket the state with the new service. IDS says it is now offers DSL service in limited areas to businesses and will eventually offer it to homes across the state for "well under" $100 a month.

DSL is actually not a new technology -- it's been around for several years. The telephone companies first planned to use it to deliver video services over its telephone lines but abandoned those plans when they found it wasn't cost effective, said Jeff Waldhuter, executive director of research and development at NYNEX's science and technology lab in White Plains, N.Y.

But with the growing interest in the Internet and with telecommuting, the phone companies are bringing DSL back. NYNEX has been working with Lotus Development of Cambridge, Mass., since last August to build a network for 60 Lotus employees who telecommute, Waldhuter said. NYNEX uses DSL technology to literally stretch Lotus's in-house network to these employees' homes, he said.

Bell Atlantic is also involved in DSL trials. Up to 500 customers in northern Virginia are using it to connect to the Internet, according to that company. Those customers are paying $30 a month as part of the trial.

Walhuter said NYNEX hopes to have a "limited introduction" of DSL services sometime next year. Right now, the company is working with some New England universities to offer them DSL lines.

While the phone companies are still figuring out how DSL will figure into their plans, two locally based Internet providers say they are ready to offer DSL now.

IDS is the first company in Rhode Island to offer the service. It will connect four or five business customers in the next week or two, as soon as some equipment arrives, said Andy Green, the company president.

John Gibbons, president of INTAP, a Providence-based Internet provider, said his company is about to link up an advertising agency using a high-speed DSL line. The cost, in some cases, is a tenth of what businesses typically pay to get a dedicated line to an Internet service provider.

Edgenet Internet Services of Westerly has said it is looking into offering DSL as well.

DSL technology is not a perfect solution. For one thing, a customer has to be within a certain distance, usually about three miles, from the telephone company's central office for the technology to work. And for a company to offer DSL services statewide as IDS plans, it will have to install special equipment in all of NYNEX's 30 central offices. To do that, it will have to register as a local telephone company with the Public Utilities Commission. It will be a time-consuming and expensive endeavor before IDS can make the service available throughout the state.

DSL modems are expensive -- they can cost up to $1,000. (That price will fall as more and more are manufactured.) Internet providers may opt to lease the equipment to customers, much the way cable television providers lease the set-top cable boxes.

Finally, while DSL dramatically reduces the cost of getting a fast connection to your Internet access company, it does nothing to reduce Internet providers' cost of connecting their customers to the Internet.

Local Internet access companies themselves connect to the Internet through the major carriers of Internet traffic, such as UUNet, MCI, Sprint and BBN Planet. The local company's costs will rise when its customers get high-speed access, because the customers will be dipping into the well with larger buckets. Local providers will have build a bigger "well" to deliver on promises of faster service.

So it will undoubtedly cost customers a lot more than $19.95 a month for unlimited access.

Where to find more


The last Cybertalk column (April 13) reported that Edgenet Internet Services of Westerly was planning to support U.S. Robotics 56K modems. Edgenet said it does have plans to support 56k modems that are based on the "56kflex" design, but it will not support the U.S. Robotics X2 technology.

Edgenet hopes to have the new modems in place by mid-May in Providence and late-May in Newport, said Jeff Thompson, Edgenet vice president.

Timothy C. Barmann is a Journal-Bulletin staff writer. His column runs every other Sunday on the On Line page. Send him comments via e-mail at tim@cybertalk.com or U.S. mail, c/o the Journal-Bulletin, 75 Fountain St., Providence, R.I. 02902.