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Tech, GP

July 3, 2010

Tech, GP: Some options better than others for connecting to the Internet

I took a phone call some time ago from someone in Oneonta who was building a new house out in the country.

He had already bought land, the house was designed and construction was starting. The question the caller had pertained to what kind of Internet connection he could get at the new house.

In Oneonta, he had Internet provided by the TV cable company, as do 67 percent of people in the Northeast. He never thought much about what any other options may be. Getting Internet access was simple, just call Time-Warner and ask for it. Then pay the bill.

When he called about getting TV and Internet at his new house, he found out what many country-dwellers already knew: the cable doesn't go there.

The reason? The cable company only runs cable to areas with enough population density to make it worth its while. If you're not in a place like that, and you really want cable, you'll have to pay for the company to run it, and that proposition starts out in the thousands of dollars if you can talk it into it at all.

The upshot: it's very easy to go from several Internet choices to near-nothing in a half mile.

Now what? That's what he was asking me.

So, let's sort out some of the options for residential Internet service.

First, way back in time, there was dial-up Internet. There still is, for most places. Most people don't think about that any more. Maybe they just don't want to think about it any more, especially after using something faster.

Dial-up is slow, and it can be less than dependable. Some say that trying to surf the Web on dial-up just isn't worth it. But it is, after all, still an option. There are a number of dial-up access providers.

Many people in rural areas have satellite TV. You can also get Internet service via satellite, although probably not from your satellite TV company. Satellite Internet is similar to satellite TV, but quite a bit more involved.

Satellite Internet is advertised as being faster than dial-up, and technically it is, but in actual use I would not say it's terrific. If you're used to, say, cable Internet, you will probably be disappointed with satellite. It's also significantly more expensive than most other kinds of Internet connections and suffers from latency, which means there is more lag time between asking for and actually getting data.

There are two satellite providers that I know of, HughesNet and Wild Blue.

Next, I would suggest trying to see if you can get DSL service from your land-line telephone provider. In these parts, both Verizon and Frontier offer it, but in both cases your actual location will determine if you can get it, and how fast it will be.

Successful DSL service only works for a certain distance over the copper wires that the phone companies use. Typically, if you're within a couple miles of a central office, you have a good chance. If you live too far down the road, well, you can't get there from here.

If you can get it, DSL usually works pretty well, if not as fast as cable Internet.

Another possibility, if you have good cell phone service where you live, is to get the Internet via a cell phone connection. You can get a small device that will plug into one of your computer's USB ports, and connect your computer to the Internet over the cell phone signal.

Again, location matters. Good cell signal, you have hope. No cell signal, it's not an option.

There is one more option that may be available _ wireless Internet. The way this works is an Internet provider puts up a radio tower, and you get a radio that attaches to your house. Then you get Internet connectivity over the radio signal between your house and the tower.

Although this kind of connection isn't quite as fast as cable Internet, it does work pretty well. I have had some experience using connections of this type, and I would say it's comparable, speed-wise, to a good DSL service.

The catch is, again, this kind of service isn't available everywhere. But take heart, it is becoming more available in certain locations around here.

A company from Ithaca, Clarity Connect, provides this kind of service, and has been quietly gaining ground.

It currently has service in the Oneonta and Cooperstown areas, and has small operations beginning in certain parts of the Laurens, Sidney, Stamford and Delhi areas.

Its wireless Internet service is a little less costly than what you'd typically pay for cable or DSL service, and it doesn't require contracts, but it does have an upfront installation charge.

You can check them out (if you currently have Internet service, of course) at the company's website,

www.clarityconnect.com.

If you're interested in that wireless service, and it doesn't cover your area, there is an information form you can fill out on the website. I talked to the owner, and he said that when the company gets enough interested people an area, it considers beginning operations there.

In a couple weeks it will be lighting up the Milford area, in an extremely interesting collaboration with the Milford School District.

I'll fill you in on that in my next installment.

Bruce Endries is former systems manager at The Daily Star. He can be reached by e-mail at techgp@dailystarmail.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/techgp.

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