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Broadband Internet Buying Guide

Ahh broadband, the holy grail for heavy Internet users. Typical dialup connections are limited to speeds of 56k or less depending on the quality of your phone lines. Broadband can achieve speeds in excess of 3mbps, 50x faster. Broadband is fast being indispensible to many American homes. For many people there is only one broadband option in their area, and so they don't have a choice. For others there is a choice and people do not always know which to choose. Additionally many people think it is too expensive, when in reality if you're paying for a second phone line and an ISP just for the Internet then it'll be about the same price.

Cable or DSL

Cable and DSL are the two main broadband options. Cable Internet is provided through your cable TV and DSL is provided through a specially conditioned phone line. So which do you choose?

Cable & DSL Speed

Cable is almost always faster than DSL for download speeds. With cable you can frequently get downloads over 1mbps, and sometimes as high as 3mbps. In fact with cable a decrease in download speed is more often a result of the speed of the connection for the computer you are downloading from, than your own speed. DSL in contrast is usually limited to 512kbps, however there are different qualities of service. If you want to you can usually pay more for DSL that runs at 1.5mbps, but if you do then the price comparison will largely favor Cable.

DSL is usually better for upload speeds though. For instance cable upload speed is usually governed at 128kbps, or sometimes at 256kbps. But you can get DSL with an upload speed of 512kbps. The reason the companies govern upload speed is because they do not want you running a server from your home. However if you do a lot of file uploading, which most people don't, the upload speed can be annoying.

One thing about cable Internet is that your connection is shared with your neighborhood, so if you have a lot of people in your area using it you may notice a slow down at peak times. DSL is also shared, but the sharing usually takes place a little further down the line. Still, the end result is the same, if many people in your area use it you may notice a slow down. DSL can also be slower if you live a large distance from the phone company.

Cable & DSL Cost

Cable and slower DSL are usually very similar in price, around $40-$50 a month. However with DSL you might have to pay to have your phone line conditioned, which can be very expensive. With both services you will need to either buy or lease a special modem as well.

Other Broadband Options


Satellite is a good option for people in rural areas that have access to neither cable or DSL. The speed and pricing is usually very reasonable, but the equipment can be expensive to buy. There is also an inherent latency involved with the signal traveling to and from space so this type of connection is not recommended for people who want to play action-driven online multiplayer games.


ISDN is not a good idea. It is slow, expensive, and dying. Don't do it.

Wireless Broadband

Wireless broadband is typically done through radio waves the same thing as WiFi only with much stronger signals. The speed and pricing is very good considering it is wireless and this option is great for people on the go. There any many wireless providers in major cities, but even moreso there are many companies setting up wireless broadband towers in rural areas as wireless is the cheapest way to provide broadband to people who live in remote areas where it would be too expensive to run cable.

This article was written by Chris Beasley.