Notes from the New Frontier: Cable Modems

Friday, September 11, 1998
From the archives: Resurrecting content from my first personal website, InterViews. Presented for historical reasons only. Not all links work. More to come.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

by Charlie Meyerson
Posted 98/09/11
Late in June, I took the plunge and signed up for a trial of cable company MediaOne's cable-modem access. If the cable company in your town -- as is the case in so many Chicago suburbs -- is offering the service, then you're truly on the cutting edge of this new technology, as documented in a May New York Times piece. The service lives up to the hype, for the most part:

* Amazingly easy -- and stable! -- access to the Internet (a 16-meg file-download in less than 2 minutes is the benchmark);
* No waiting for a connection -- you're online as soon as your computer's on and your browser's opened;
* No need to tie up a phone line.

One additional benefit to cable modems, documented in the Times' CyberTimes section: Internet service provided by cable companies may fall under the federal Cable TV Privacy Act -- giving those consumers extra protection not now provided to those who surf the 'Net via standard phone lines.

Cable-modem service still doesn't make the Internet as effortless as TV. It won't make your computer work faster, and the appearance of new images on-screen may not seem substantially faster than with a dial-up connection. But the heavy lifting of the Internet -- like the downloading of huge updates to browser software -- becomes almost effortless.

As a matter of fact, when my computer's hard-drive crashed a few weeks after getting my cable-modem (no connection, I believe), retrieving my vast collection of shareware and freeware off the Internet was a breeze. (I do wish I'd backed up more of the kids' homework and my private letters.)

It's been hard -- but fun -- to shake the feeling that I have to get off to free up the phone or to keep our phone bill down. That psychological shift may be the most challenging aspect of the service, based on my conversation with others. If you need Internet access at home for business reasons, this is a no-brainer -- with a few reservations:

(a) You're already getting at least some level of cable-TV service -- which typically brings the price down to $40/month (it tends to run around $50 otherwise);
(b) You dump your present Internet-access service (AOL or whatever, saving you about $20/month) and you dump (or cancel plans to buy) a dedicated phone line for your modem (at least $20 a month). You can also continue to access AOL quickly and easily through cable-modems -- at AOL's discounted $9.95/month "B.Y.O" rate.

And beware botched installations.

MediaOne, which admits its installers are still learning the ropes, sent out two guys who really didn't understand the system....or my Macintosh. They left without finishing the job, promising to have someone call me the next day.

No one called.

With the advice of a friend, I managed to get the system up and running in a couple of hours, but it was a week-and-a-half before I got all my technical questions answered -- and then they had to send out an installation guy because I discovered my connection speeds were only about half what they were supposed to be. (MediaOne's *phone* support was excellent.)

Still, the system's been up and running fine ever since. And MediaOne freely granted an extra (second) month's free service and $20 credit for my trouble -- a reasonable settlement, for which I didn't have to make a big fuss.

Because companies have several different sign-up offers, make sure you request something at least as good as the following:

* Free installation;
* Free cable modem;
* Free first month's service;
* No commitment beyond the free trial.

You will need an Ethernet card for your computer (if you don't have one already); depending on your computer, they'll sell you and install one for anywhere from $50-100. You could also buy and install your own for (maybe) less.

If you'd like more information, check out the MediaOne Express web page at http://24.128.1.116/express/central/twoway/how_it_works/index.html;

Techno-dweebily yours,

CM


Charlie Meyerson is an award-winning Chicago journalist.
Check out the Chicago InterViews web page at http://people.ce.mediaone.net/cmeyerson

Entire contents Copyright 1998 by Charles Meyerson. All rights reserved.
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