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June 21, 1998

DSL service is coming --
eventually, Bell Atlantic says

By Timothy C. Barmann

Bell Atlantic has finally unveiled its plans to launch its high-speed Internet service. But those plans don't include Rhode Island -- at least not yet.

Earlier this month, the phone company said it will introduce its InfoSpeed Internet access service in September in Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. The service will be available in Boston and New York City sometime next year.

The company did not specify when it will be available here. A company spokeswoman insisted that Rhode Island has not been forgotten.

``I think that customers can rest assured as we graduate this rollout that Providence will certainly be under consideration as an important market going forward in the next year or two,'' said Shannon Fioravanti, a Bell Atlantic spokeswoman.

Bell Atlantic's service is based on a technology known as DSL or Digital Subscriber Line. DSL is an ingenious way of using your existing phone line to transmit data much faster than it could otherwise. Bell Atlantic's service will allow your computer to be connected to the Internet whenever your computer is on, and it will even allow you to make phone calls while your computer is on-line.

DSL is not new technology. The phone company has been using it for many years, and initially saw it as a way to deliver video service. That turned out to be too expensive. Now with demand rising for faster Internet access, DSL technology is coming around again.

But many Rhode Islanders may find it's not worth the wait. Bell Atlantic's service is more expensive and provides a slower connection than Cox Communications' Cox@Home service. That service, which became available in parts of Rhode Island in February, connects home users to the Internet through their cable television wire.

The least expensive option for Bell Atlantic's service will be $69.95 a month for a 640 Kbps connection. That's about 22 times faster than a typical 28.8 Kbps modem many now use. By contrast, Cox@Home is $25 a month cheaper (for Cox cable customers) including modem rental. Cox@Home subscribers get a 1.5 Mpbs to 3 Mpbs connection, which is about 50 to 100 times as fast as a 28.8 Kbps modem.

Like the Bell Atlantic service, Cox@Home connects you to the Internet as long as your computer is on. By the end of July, Cox will offer its Cox@Home Internet service in 14 communities in the state, which is about half of the cable company's coverage area in the state. Cox is the largest cable company in Rhode Island, serving 90 percent of the state's 280,000 cable subscribers.

Both the Cox service and the Bell Atlantic service have costly start-up fees. Bell Atlantic will charge about $200 for a one-time connection fee and a special modem. Cox charges about $150 for installation and some of the hardware needed.

Fioravanti of Bell Atlantic says its DSL service will be better because customers will have a direct connection to the Internet, while cable modem customers will have to share the network with their neighbors who have also signed up for the service.

However, if cable companies such as Cox add capacity to meet customers' demand as the service becomes more popular, DSL will not necessarily provide a lower-congestion connection.

Cox and Bell Atlantic are not the only players here that offer high-speed access. Some local Internet providers have been offering DSL service for about a year.

INTAP and Log On America, both of Providence, and InteleCom Data Systems (IDS) of East Greenwich all provide DSL services to businesses.

But what about the residential market?

``The current cost of the DSL equipment is too high to justify installing it in residential applications,'' said John V. Gibbons III, president of INTAP of Providence.

In March 1997, IDS announced plans to launch DSL service around the state to homes. However, a widespread launch has yet to happen.

Andy Green, president of IDS, said the delay has been mainly due to vendors not manufacturing enough of the necessary equipment.

However, that may soon change, according to Green.

``The current generation of hardware is quite advanced, and the costs are coming down, making it more cost effective to offer these high-speed services,'' Green said.

Green says the company will have a ``major rollout'' of DSL service and the company has acquired space in Newport, East Greenwich, Warwick and Providence, and it plans to acquire space in Cranston, Pawtucket, Woonsocket, East Providence and the East Bay areas soon.

The price of the service will be competitive with the services planned by Bell Atlantic and now offered by Cox, Green said.

There is a downside to DSL. To make a telephone line DSL-capable, Internet providers or the phone company must install special equipment on their end. And, there is a limit of how far away a customer can be from that special equipment, usually about 3 miles.

It's ironic to think that years ago, local phone companies had the technology that could have made them the leaders in providing fast Internet access to the home. Today, Bell Atlantic seems to be lagging behind everyone else.

Timothy C. Barmann is a Journal-Bulletin staff writer. His column runs every other Sunday on the Computers and Technology 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.