Your Internet Consultant - The FAQs of Life Online

2.2. What kinds of connections are available?

Individuals and small businesses can best access the Internet using a dial-up connection. A dial-up connection simply means that when you want to access the Internet, your modem dials a host computer and you can go about your business; when you're done, just hang up the modem to free the phone line. Dial-up access means your phone line is only tied up while you're actually using the Internet, and you won't need expensive and complex hardware like a high-speed leased phone line, terminal servers, routers, or a UNIX computer system.

If you're trying to connect a large group of people who require simultaneous, extremely fast connections to the Internet, dial-up access is not the best choice. If you're connecting more than 20 people who require simultaneous and permanent Internet connections, you may very well need that leased line, terminal server, router, and other equipment. This is called a dedicated connection, and I won't talk much about these, partly because they frighten me. Luckily, those of us who need simple dial-up access will only need a computer and modem, a phone line, an account with a service provider, and the appropriate software.

Note: New technologies will add options for accessing the Internet. For instance, Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) is offered in some areas and is slowly becoming more readily available. ISDN will bridge the gap between personal dial-up service and a dedicated connection by allowing fast access (at about 57 Kbps, four times faster than today's 14.4 Kbps modems) over inexpensive phone lines. Most phone companies will charge slightly more for ISDN service than regular phone service (my phone company, Pacific Bell, charges a monthly fee plus a few cents per minute for connect time), and you'll require special hardware to make your computer talk over ISDN. (Sorry, your regular modem just won't do.) However, if it's available to you, Internet service over ISDN might be the right choice for small businesses and those of us who want access to the Net as fast as we can get it.

There are several types of services you can use to access the Internet.

* A public-access service provider

* Commercial online service

* Dial-up IP link access

* Community bulletin board system

Don't worry about the acronym for now; we'll tackle it later. Some connections give you access to a wide variety of Internet services and tools; others limit you to only a few tools such as electronic mail and the Usenet. Each type of connection has important features and drawbacks to consider before you make your choice.

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