Table: A Broadband Primer
Broadband technologies differ in availability, speed, and price
Data from the Net flows over the same coaxial cable that carries TV signals. Modems split the Net data from TV data and direct it to the PC. Cable is 10 to 20 times faster than a 56 kilobits-per-second modem.
COST: $40 to $50 a month.
DOWNSIDE: Speed to your PC can be lower than advertised, and security is a big question mark. PCs have to be located near a TV cable in the home, and a cable-repair person is needed to hook the system up.
Phone companies turn their copper wires into speedy Net connections with digital subscriber lines. DSL turns digital signals of computers into sound waves and zaps them through the phone network. DSL is more than 10 times faster than a 56k modem.
COST: About $50 a month.
DOWNSIDE: Speed to your PC can be lower than advertised, and from your PC is even slower. Residents farther than 14,000 feet from a central phone office probably can't get service.
Satellites that beam TV signals also transmit Net data. The Net signals are collected on dishes, split off from TV signals, and routed to the PC. Speeds are four to eight times faster than a 56k modem.
COST: $60 to $70 a month.
DOWNSIDE: Most satellite service is only one way, so many customers need a cumbersome setup to send data back to the Net over their regular phone line. Two-way service is slower.
The same airwaves used to beam wireless phone calls can be used to transmit Net data. The signals are delivered from wireless towers, collected on dishes attached to the home, and routed to the PC. Speeds are 2 to 10 times faster than a 56k modem.
COST: $30 to $45 a month.
DOWNSIDE: The service is available in few places and requires a clear line of sight between the tower and a customer's home.