"I feel the need -- the need for speed!"
In 1986, it was Tom Cruise who delivered that line in the movie "Top Gun." But today, it's dial-up Internet users who feel the need for speed -- and who are sometimes frustrated in their efforts to achieve it.
As web sites become more and more complex, and as the demand for online video and other high-bandwidth services becomes the norm rather than the exception, those who haven't yet made the leap to broadband -- or those for whom broadband is out of reach -- find themselves more and more frustrated.
A committee of local civic leaders is working to try to encourage broadband providers to expand their reach in Bedford County, but in the meantime, let's look at the options.
I'm going to refer to the regular full price of each service, as listed on the company's web site on the afternoon of March 20. If the web site required users to submit an address before it showing prices (indicating that prices and available speeds may vary by location), I used my home address, which is in the southern part of Shelbyville but within a little more than a mile of the square.
In almost every case, there are special deals available, including heavily-discounted introductory prices ("only $24.95 per month for the first six months"), special deals for signing a long-term contract or "bundle" discounts if you also buy your TV and/or telephone services from the same provider. It would be nearly impossible to compare all of the different special sales and introductory prices available, so we'll stick with the full published price as a basis for comparison. Be sure and shop around to make sure you're getting the lowest price possible. And make sure to clarify whether any price you are quoted is a temporary discount, good for three, six or 12 months, or whether it's the price you will pay over the long term.
Also note that the speeds mentioned are download speeds. Almost any provider restricts you to a slower speed for uploads (sending content) than you have purchased for downloads (receiving content).
These prices may or may not include the cost of a DSL modem, cable modem or other equipment you need to connect your computer. Always check on equipment costs when you compare prices.
DSL is a type of broadband service offered by the telephone company -- but, for technical reasons, traditional DSL is only offered within a certain distance of a particular telephone exchange.
If you live in the area served by AT&T's DSL lines, and if you don't already have any form of broadband Internet, you have access to a terrific deal in entry-level broadband: $10 per month, virtually the same price charged by most dial-up Internet companies. AT&T doesn't publicize this deal, which it agreed to offer when regulators allowed it to purchase BellSouth a few years ago. As far as I can tell, it will only be offered through the end of 2009.
It's only offered online -- so if you don't currently have dial-up service, you'll have to use an Internet-connected computer at work, the library or a friend's house to sign up.
Go to AT&T's web site, att.com, click on the menu item for Internet services, and then enter your phone number if prompted. You will see a selection of four regular-price Internet plans. Scroll down past them all the way to the bottom of the page, where it says "New to DSL?" Enter your phone number there for information about the $10 per month DSL offer. That offer is for the entry-level speed of DSL, 768 kilobytes per second (KBps), but it's still faster than dial-up Internet, and for approximately the same price. Also, like other forms of broadband, it's always on and doesn't tie up your voice telephone line. (You must have also telephone service with AT&T to qualify for this rate.)
As far as AT&T's regular DSL offerings, they range in regular price from $19.95 per month for 768 KBps up to $42.95 per month for a 6-megabytes-per-second (MBps) package.
I haven't heard yet whether the eventual introduction of AT&T's cable TV service, U-Verse, will result in the expansion of the areas where the company offers DSL. No timetable has been announced yet for rolling out U-Verse in this area, although I've heard secondhand reports that preparations are being made.
If Charter Communications supports cable Internet at your address, you can get a 5 MBps connection for $54.99 per month, or a very fast 10 MBps connection for $64.99 per month, considerably faster than the top speeds for DSL or satellite.
The Charter web site also advertises a 20 MBps connection, but it doesn't seem to be available at my address, or those of two Twitter followers who responded to my queries. A Charter representative who also found my Twitter post said it is offered in our area, but it depends on your exact location.
If you're outside the market coverage for either DSL or cable Internet, you do still have a high-speed Internet option. Broadband Internet can be delivered by satellite -- but the price is higher than for a land-line connection. Also, the equipment is more elaborate and expensive, though you have the option to purchase it up front or lease it.
HughesNet offers 1 MBps Internet for $59.99 per month up to 5 MBps Internet for $349.99 per month. Neither figure includes equipment costs. Be sure to check local satellite TV dealers to see if they represent HughesNet as well.
A second satellite Internet company, WildBlue, says at its web site that it's not installing in our area at the moment but allows you to leave contact information for future reference. WildBlue offers speeds ranging from 512 KBps to 1.5 MBps.
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government. He is also the author of the self-published novel "Soapstone." His personal web site is lakeneuron.com.