Get Connected

March 1, 2010 by  
Filed under Features

Congratulations!

by Michael Bodine

You got your new PC. Now what? A good place to start is by hooking up to the Internet: send and receive emails; visit web sites; download software, music, videos, and books; shop online; share pictures; create your own web site; use MySpace, Facebook, or Twitter –the main things that most people do are trade emails and pictures with friends and family, and visit websites.

You get on the net through an Internet Service Provider, or ISP.  When you call an ISP, they’re going to start slinging terms at you! The most important is the speed of your connection, measured in thousands-of-bits per second, or kilo-bits per second or kbps. A bit is a unit of memory in a computer, and eight of them together, called a byte, are roughly what it takes to store one character of text. Higher speed connections are measured in millions-of-bits per second, called mega-bytes per second or MBps. Many bits or bytes stored together are used to create files and programs on your computer.

There are three main choices for connecting – cheap, moderate, and more expensive. The distinguishing feature for each is speed. A cheap connection may cost only $10 a month, but uploading a single picture can take 20 minutes. Nearer $50/month, that same picture would take 30 seconds or less. The faster your speed (or, the higher your kbps or Mbps,) the less time it will take to upload or download files.

At that slow, $10/month speed, about the cost for a dial-up connection, you are effectively prevented from visiting many websites, because so many sites include pictures and videos. Email would take a long time, because email often includes pictures or graphics. Such speeds are so frustratingly slow, however, that few people will be satisfied. Only consider dial-up on a very limited budget. (For dial-up, call PeoplePC 877-947-3327; or Earthlink 800-EARTHLINK – costs should be around $10/month though they will try to sell you more costly packages! Be sure not to pay more for dial-up!)

Mid-range is DSL, currently the most common connection. On Tybee, DSL is provided by AT&T/BellSouth. Other providers can be selected, but they will use the same line running to your home provided by AT&T: if things go wrong, you’ll have to decide whom to fight – your ISP or AT&T. It’s simplest to use AT&T.

DSL comes in several speeds, and prices, starting at $20/month (for 768Kbps, more than 10 times faster than dial-up) and going up to about $40/month (for 6Mbps, or almost 10 times faster than the $20 choice). If you have a laptop with wireless (WiFi), you can work wirelessly, without plugging any cables into your computer. AT&T also provides public WiFi  in some restaurants, hotels, and coffee shops.

Whichever you choose, you’ll need to have a DSL modem installed at home, then put digital filters on all your phones to prevent interference (static) between conversations and computer data. If you choose wireless from AT&T, for a bit more, they can sell you a DSL modem that includes WiFi as well as allowing you to use their public WiFi at no additional charge.

Braver souls can go wireless by purchasing a separate wireless router that works with that DSL modem – this can be cheaper, saving you the monthly WiFi fees, but again, this can lead to problems figuring out the fault if there is a problem! (For DSL, contact AT&T’s DSL sales at 888-321-2DSL.)

For the very fastest option, Comcast is your provider. They offer several tiers – 12, 15, 22, or 50 MBps, with monthly fees from $40 to $50/month. They have special deals that offer six months for $20/month, and if you already use Comcast cable, you can combine TV with digital phone and internet service to get an attractive bundled price. A cable modem is required to interface your computer with the Comcast network, which you can purchase or lease from them. (Contact Comcast at 800-COMCAST to arrange for cable internet service.) If you want to go wireless with cable, you must purchase the wire-less router separately, for anywhere from $40 to about $120 – again, higher speeds cost more.

As with so much technology, there are many confusing options. A good rule is to go with the best you can afford to get the best chance at satisfaction.

Note, I am not affiliated with nor advocating any of these services. Other options are available for more experienced users, and the prices given are approximate and subject to change by each provider!

Michael

Next month: Setting up your wireless connection at home.

Contributor Michael Bodine is available at mbodine@rammb.com. Drop an email to let him know what you’d like covered in future articles. He also is available for consultation. His web site is www.rammb.com.

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