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Choosing a Broadband Connection

If you're stilling chugging along in the slow lane of the Information Superhighway with your 56Kbps modem, now's the time for an upgrade. For $30 to $60 per month (not much more than the $20 to $25 per month that most dial-up accounts cost), you can get much faster Internet access and it won't tie up your phone line. And the biggest problem with broadband access—the ability to even get the service—is dwindling in all but the most remote areas of the United States.

Making the Connection
With a broadband connection, your PC must be outfitted with a NIC rather than a modem. NICs are generally internal PCI cards, which require that you open your PC and do a little bit of hands-on installation. However, USB-based NICs are also available, and these simple-to-install devices can save time and aggravation, although they're generally not optimal because they might have to share USB bandwidth with other external devices, such as scanners, digital cameras, mice and keyboards, and other hardware.

You can connect a PC directly to a broadband connection, such as a cable "modem" or DSL "modem" (neither are really modems, strictly speaking, but the used of the term eases the transition for consumers), by using a standard Ethernet networking cable between the NIC in your PC and the cable modem's network connection. More often than not, however, many people are choosing to go with a hardware-based residential gateway or router, which physically sits between the broadband "modem" and your PC. Such devices are quite common and cheap, and they offer a plethora of services. Most important, they offer excellent security, assuming you configure them properly. Given the number of electronic attacks occurring each day, connecting a PC directly to a broadband connection is foolish.

Choosing a Connection Type
Broadband access comes in three basic flavors, cable-based, DSL, and satellite. Looking past the marketing of these products, I'd choose them in that order, based on availability.

Unless you're willing to pay for a high-end DSL account, cable is generally faster, cheaper, and more stable than DSL or satellite. And I'd go with satellite only if the other two aren't available in your area. But which flavor you choose matters little: Any are superior to modem-based dial-up access. And if you were paying for a second phone line anyway, a broadband account is a relative bargain.

However, a new form of high-speed access, based on new fiber-optic telephone lines, trumps them all. Dubbed Verizon Fios, the new service is as much as three times faster than the fastest cable modem and costs a competitive $50 a month. However, Fios is available in only certain areas so far, so check with Verizon for availability.

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