Internet Tutorials | John Faughnan | Robert Elson
How can you connect to the Internet? This is changing all the time. In the old days (last year), you typically used a modem and a phone line to dial into an "Internet Service Provider" (ISP). Most people still connect this way, but now better, faster, alternatives are emerging, including "cable modem" or "DSL modem" connections.
Depending on how you connect (phone, cable, DSL), you may not get a choice about who your ISP is. For example, most DSL users in the Twin Cities pay a local telephone company, US West, for their DSL service and Internet services. Cable users may have MediaOne as both a cable service provder and an Internet service provider.
This is all changing very rapidly, and many national ISPs (like AOL) are scrambling to play in the high-speed access market (DSL and cable modem).
As of June 1999, this document remains useful for dial-up users and for some high-speed access users. (See also: Small ISPs and Rural Internet Access and MindSpring - A Typical ISP)
With dial-up access you have to select a company or organization that will provide your connection (Internet Service Provider, or ISP), just as you choose a telephone company for long distance service.
For some physicians, a local educational facility may provide a cheaper alternative. In some cases even non-alumni may join the alumni association, and qualify for quite cheap rates.
Be sure to read the Rules of Thumb section before you sign up!
As of mid-1999 there are two forms of high-speed access competing across the United States -- DSL (digital signal line) and Cable. Both are 4-10 times faster than dial-up access, but another key advantage is that your machine is always connected, there's no time spent waiting for a connection to be established. This 'instant-on' feature changes the way people use the Internet.
DSL and Cable each have advantages and disadvantages, but most markets don't have both available. The costs are typically $30-55/month, which is comparable to a second voice line and a dial-up ISP fee. Most persons won't start with high-speed access; this is still pioneering stuff! If you go this direction, you will want to consult with local users before choosing.
These are national Internet Service Providers that we recommend. Prices are all pretty comparable, and all offer software packages, usually built around Internet Explorer. Only MacConnect clearly supports Macintosh users, though MindSpring has some support. These companies are likely to stay in business for a while. See also: http://people.netscape.com/olcen/Ispf.html
These are some national ISPs you may hear of. In past years this has been a list of ISPs to avoid! However, it is impossible to deny that AOL (for example) is the the dominant player in the ISP marketplace. They have a disreputable history, but there are far fewer customer complaints now than there were in 1997. They have special appeal for families.
Local ISPs may provide more responsive and personal service than national ISPs. They can also go out of business!
The List (http://thelist.iworld.com) is a reasonably comprehensive listing of every company that provides Internet access. It is a good way to locate a local or regional ISP.
Local universities can also be a source of inexpensive access, particularly for alumni. Sometimes you can join the alumni association, and get service, even if you never attended the school.
See also Small ISPs and Rural Internet Access.
|Macintosh user||Consider MacConnect or MindSpring.|
|AOL or MindSpring for novices or families. MindSpring or Concentric for more expert users, or consider a local ISP. Some persons spend a month or two with AOL then move on to MindSpring.|
|Concentric Network may have the best rates, and it's service is also highly regarded.|
|Average User + Local Expert||If you've got a local expert, who will set you up with a local ISP they know and like, then you can go with that choice.|
Confirm that your ISP will support the modem you own at its maximum speed. If you don't own a modem yet some ISPs will recommend a type of modem or even a specific model.
|||The DSL device is typically a "router" or "bridge" and not a "modem" at all. However the meaning of the word modem is changing, it's being increasingly used as though it meant "connection device".|