ISPs, Connections, DSLs & Browsers

There are several factors to consider before deciding on the best Internet options for you.

Have you heard the terms "ISP" (Internet Service Provider) and "Browser?" What's a "DSL"?'

Choosing an ISP or deciding between DSL and a cable connection can be confusing and, for the non-computer-person, boring and frustrating! In this column, I'm going to try to make it simpler.

Almost every time I'm out speaking to kitchen and bath dealers, I hear the question, "Which ISP and/or browser should I be using?" The truth is, there's not one good answer to the question, but several factors to determine your best option. Before I cover those, let's define ISP, browser and DSL.

  • The ISP: In order to browse the Web or send and receive e-mail, it's necessary to be connected to the Internet. An ISP furnishes you with this connection. ISPs have computers connected to the Internet all the time. When your computer dials into one of these computers, you then become connected, as well.
  • Browser: A browser is the software program that allows you to view Web pages. There are two browser programs that most people use. One is Internet Explorer (by Microsoft) and the other is Navigator (by Netscape). A browser's job is to interpret the "code" that's sent over the Internet to your computer into something more easily understood.

The next time you're on line, look at the top left side of your screen. You'll see a word similar to "Location" or "Address," and after that will be a long, thin, white space. This is where you type the address of the Web site you want to go to. This is part of your browser, too. A browser also has other functions: it provides you with tools to help you recall your favorite sites, allows you to go backward or forward by page, or to stop something that's taking too long to download.

Choosing an ISP
All ISPs have about the same function to get you connected to the Internet. However, some can offer you various speed connections.

Most people use a modem and a standard phone line to connect to the Internet. However, there are some new technologies that allow you to surf the Web faster than before. The best new high-speed options include DSL and cable.

The first thing to consider is how fast you want to connect to the Internet. In many areas throughout the U.S., there's only one choice a modem, at a speed of up to 56K. Usually a standard modem-type connection will cost about $20 per month, per account. It's best to have a phone line specifically dedicated to your computer's modem.'

If you have the need for speed, DSL and cable connections which aren't available in every area throughout the U.S. yet may be the best way for you to go.

  • DSL (Digital Subscriber Line): DSL is usually touted as being the best choice for business. However, it's not your typical phone connection and requires a special setup process. The speed of DSL will range from 128K to about 1.5 Mbps (1,500K). Of course, the more speed you get, the more it will cost. DSL usually starts at $80-$100 per month.
  • Cable connections: Your cable connection speed will vary depending upon how many other people are connected using the same cable company. Cable companies that call to sell you this service will say that you'll have a high-speed connection usually at around 4 Mbps (4,000K). This sounds great; the only problem is that they don't tell you that, unlike DSL, you share the same connection with other cable subscribers. For example, if four people are using the same connection, your speed will drop down to 1 Mbps. If 40 people are using it, your speed will drop to 100K. Cable connections usually cost about $40 per month.

Assessing needs
Another factor in the ISP decision process is how many people at your company will require Internet access. If only a few people use the Internet a couple of times a week, then a standard modem connection will do fine. However, if the people in your company are beginning to compete for Internet access, or you need to get more phone lines in to connect to the 'net, it may be time to consider going the DSL route.

As I've noted, DSL is a high-speed connection. It can also support multiple users without requiring separate phone lines and, at a certain point, DSL becomes a better value than multiple-modem connections.

Let's say, for example, that your company needs two phone lines at $30 per month just for Internet access. You'd also have to pay for multiple Internet access accounts at $20 per month. Well, you're now investing up to $100 per month in Internet charges. Getting a higher-speed DSL connection now starts to make economic sense.

Next, take into consideration whether you and your computer are mobile. If you find yourself needing access to the Internet from various parts of your state, or from different points across North America, it's cost effective to get a national ISP. For example, if you live in Vermont, and you're in a hotel in New Mexico and you want to connect to the Internet, if you use a national ISP, you'll only have to pay for a local phone call (as opposed to a long distance phone call back to your ISP in Vermont).

If you're mobile, you must use a modem, since DSL and cable are installed at a location and do not travel. On the other hand, if you aren't traveling with your computer, you might choose your local phone company because most of them now also act as ISPs and they can help you get on line.

Just as you're seeing ISPs come in several flavors, another option is the all-in-one ISP. The most well-known of this type is AOL, which is easy to use and set up, and gives you everything in one neat, easy-to-understand package.
While figuring out which ISP or what type of Internet connection you want isn't as much fun as actually surfing the Web, they're obviously decisions you have to make.

The bottom line is that a good ISP will make it easy for you to get on line, and the ISP's staff will assist you when in need. Don't be afraid to call. And if the ISP you've chosen isn't helpful, choose one that is!

A Comparison of Internet Service Providers (ISPs)

P.S. Thanks to Steve Krengel, technical geek and WorldView Technologies president, for his assistance with this column.

Karla Krengel is v.p./sales and marketing for the Chicago-based Worldview Technologies, Inc., the leading Web site design firm for kitchen/bath and interior design professionals. She speaks widely throughout the industry on Internet-related topics, and is an instructor for the National Kitchen & Bath Association.