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TECH TIP
Cable vs. DSL
Life beyond dial-up
By Rob Levy

One of the great things about Thanksgiving is the memories. All that food. All that cranberry sauce on the new tablecloth. And when those memories are collected and shared on the Net as photos and video, people with high-speed access are the ones who will enjoy them the most.

If you're excited about getting a faster connection, but aren't sure whether cable or DSL is the way to go, read on. Here's a short intro to high-speed Internet.

What are the options?
To be clear, when I talk about high-speed Internet in this article, I mean a cable or DSL connection. That's because, though there are other ways to get better-than-dial speeds, they're usually slower than cable or DSL, much more expensive, or require that you live in a specific city.

So, let's stick to the big two. If you can't get them where you live, then you might like to look into satellite service. But for most Americans, cable or DSL is the most sensible solution.

And now that we know what we're talking about, the next question is: What are we talking about? What's the difference between cable and DSL?
I'll save you a lot of time right here by saying that either way, you're going to be happy with the boost in speed and convenience. Suddenly, you'll be able to watch videos online, or download pictures and music in a flash.

And you'll never have to get off the phone to do it, because cable and DSL connections are always ready when you are. You turn your computer on, and you've got the Net right there ready to go. You're gonna love it.

Cable

We all know that cable is the stuff that HBO uses to get to your living room. But TV is really just data, and data can mean The Sopranos or email. Cable Internet uses the same old TV cables to pass along pictures, movies, and online news to your computer.

The upside
  • Cable is fast. How fast? Let's say your aunt sent you a full-sized photo of the dog eating Thanksgiving turkey (right off the table). It might take a couple of minutes for you to download the picture using your dial-up modem. That's ok. Take your time.
  • But in the same couple of minutes, using a premium cable connection, you could download that picture plus another 200 or so just like it! Ok, maybe you don't want 200 pictures of that dog, but it's nice to have options. (If you just have a regular cable connection, not a premium one, you're more likely to get about 75 pics of Rover instead.)
The downside
  • Cable is shared. That means if your neighbors also have cable, their surfing habits may affect how fast your connection is. If everyone is checking email, watching videos, and downloading software at about the same time, you could find that your connection loses some snap.
  • Also, cable companies have had a hard time keeping their customers happy. According to polls, people seem happier with their DSL providers than with their cable providers. But you should ask around before committing to a provider.

DSL

DSL (or digital subscriber line) is a way of delivering the Internet using your phone line. But because it takes advantage of extra wiring in the line, it doesn't tie up your phone. You can chat online while chatting on the phone at the same time.

The upside
  • DSL, like cable, is nice and fast. While it doesn't have quite the horsepower of cable, it isn't shared between you and your neighbors.
  • Many people find that their phone line is more reliable than their cable. That means more time on the Net and less time on the phone with Tech Support.
The downside
  • Because DSL uses your phone line, there sometimes can be interference between the phone and the DSL. To prevent this, you'll need to plug in little "filters," which keep the two streams of data separate. This isn't a big deal, and your provider will make it easy to do, but it's just one step you don't have to take with cable.
  • DSL speed can depend on factors you can't control. Your distance from the phone company's hub and the quality of your phone lines can mean the difference between zippy and sluggish. Before signing up, you should ask whether your location makes it possible to hit those high speeds that get you excited.

The bottom line
Both cable and DSL provide really fast, reliable Internet access. Whether you make your decision based on how far you are from the phone company's hub, or how much you love (or hate) your cable company, you're going to end up enjoying your newfound, very fast, always-ready, Internet connection.

More Info
For details about the high-speed offerings at EarthLink, check out our EarthLink High Speed Internet FAQ page. For details about the specific plans, visit the appropriate link below:
Cable
DSL
DSL and Home Phone