My first high speed internet was a 256 KB link that U. S. West offered. I tried to get it for the office, but we were 16,528 feet from the central office (they measured it electronically while talking to me on the phone). The limit then was 15,000 feet. But I could get DSL at home and took it.
In those days you had to talk to tech support before they would take your order. The question was "can you open your PC and install an Ethernet card." I told them I could, but it already had one, which totally surprised them (home computers didn't have network cards). I thought the deal was off when I explain the reason for the card was a Novell network we had in the house (file and printer sharing).
They finally said I could sign up, but "we don't support network installations." My "modem" turned out to be the first consumer Cisco router I had ever seen and in 10 minutes every computer in the house had high speed internet. Tech support calls, while infrequent, were short since I was passed to their business support people in San Francisco since I had a network. As a result I never really had to deal with tech support people whose sole solution was "have you rebooted your PC?"
I gave up on U S West effective April 20, 1999 when I switched to Comcast after getting a letter from U S West I would have to install MSN software to continue my DSL service (a fact I still believe is an error since I didn't use their email servers anyway).
When I switched, my internet speed quadrupled to 1MB per second. Installation was a little more complicated because we had to put the cable modem in the basement and add some wiring and our own router, but it only took an hour or two (I'm pretty sure it would have been faster if I could have had my Comcast installer sit in a corner).
Tech support has been ok, but I missed the ability to skip over the basics like "have you rebooted your PC?" There have been drop out problems we traced to signal strength, solved by an amplifier and rewiring the house, twice. Part of the signal problem is we've always had 5 converter boxes so there aren't discussions about what to watch. Even with the free "upgrades" we supposedly got from Comcast we have never been able to get past 4 MB per second on a good day, usually more like 2 MB.
If you want to know how your link is performing, go to www.speedtest.net. You can check your download and upload speeds. I recommend doing one with a local server, a second with a server in another state. It is possible to have blazingly fast local connections that feed into slower "pipes" further upstream.
This past week I switched back to DSL.
The main reason to switch was financial. I have been paying about $60 per month to Comcast for "adequate" speed and service. Qwest (the new name for U S West) offered me DSL for $20 per month for the first 6 months, $40 per month forever for that.
And the rated, and measured, speed is 12 MB per second down and 5 MB per second up. That's a good 3 times as fast as I had on Friday before I did the switch. I notice the difference on high resolution video, so far I haven't seen any pauses for buffering.
I could have had 40 MB per second down during the intro period for the same price, but didn't want to pay $80 per month later (or remember to "downgrade" after the promo).
The point of my story?
Don't believe the ads by either cable or DSL over which is faster. In reality, the speed you get will depend on exact where you live and what wiring might be limiting your performance.
It pays to shop around. At a given performance, internet access is truly a commodity unless you have circumstances that make your service intermittent (at which time tech support quality may be a factor). It may even make sense to switch every so often to take advantage of new customer promotions (when are companies going to start rewarding loyalty instead of disloyalty?).
Gregg Marshall, CPMR, CSP, is a speaker, author and consultant. He can be reached by e-mail at gmarshall[AT]repconnection.com, or visit his website at http://www.repconnection.com.