My daughter has RoadRunner cable, which would cost $50 a month if we didn't have Time-Warner cable TV service (aka "garbage feed") but with cable TV you pay $40 a month. Throughput at night, when connected to a server with a lot of bandwidth, is excellent (I got a Redhat ISO image once at 1AM from a Florida university server at over 225 KB per second! but sometimes during busy periods, like Saturday afternoon, it has dogged down to as low as 15 KB/sec from servers that I know have much higher capacity.) I can sometimes mount drives on other users's Win9x PCs on our subnet, which is rather amusing and probably illegal.
When you order RoadRunner here in Tampa, Florida, you get visits from two service guys. One guy, a nice, calm fellow with a toolbelt, attaches a splitter to your cable line and runs a wire along your roofline, down the wall, through a hole he drills in your masonry, to a socket he mounts on your wall by your computer desk. He also drops off a box containg a cable modem. That's the limit of his responsibilty. The other guy, a nervous wreck, shows up late as heck, apologizing for the delay. His job, for the average consumer, consists of the following: 1.) Install an ethernet card in the user's Win9x machine (NT, Linux, etc. users are out in the cold, I'm not sure about Mac users) 2.) Install TCP/IP. 3.) Install a RoadRunner login client that runs only in Windows (but I'm not sure they do this anymore, because we no longer have to use the login program, we're just connected 24/7) 4.) Do some mysterious programming over the phone with the local office, to get the cable service to work with the specific cable modem and finally, once the PC has connected successfully to the cable service, 5.) Download and install a browser (when we first got RoadRunner, they were installing MSIE3, even though IE4 had been out for a year, because as the installer said, "IE4 is way more trouble than it's worth," but now they install IE5 instead.) This is not a job I'd like to have; I wonder what percentage of the Win9x machines these guys work on take that one-way trip to bluescreen city arfter these first two steps, and what Joe or Jane Homeowner has to say after that tech guy has hosed their previously working computer?
The RoadRunner PC install guy won't leave until the client's PC is working correctly, or until the sun goes down; I've heard of these guys spending a day and a half before they could get a screwed up Win9x box to connect. The guy who came to my house, who was supposed to be there before noon, showed up at 4:45PM, after spending all day getting a PCMCIA ethernet card to work with some other customer's IBM ThinkPad. He was trying to explain to my entirely non-technical wife why he had to open up the PC case to install this here ethernet thingie in it when I walked in and told him that the box already had a working 3C509, TCP/IP, and a couple of browsers all installed and configured. Boy was he relieved, especially after his all-day ThinkPad ordeal!
The other high speed connection I've got at home is GTE DSL. They run an ADSL line into your house for as little as $35 a month - this is a "bronze," or 64/256 line - and the ISP service costs another $20 a month, for a total of $55 a month. Because of antitrust or something, they are required, unlike RoadRunner, to split the service like that and offer you non-GTE ISPs as well. If I got both parts from GTE, I'd get a DHCP-vended IP address, like I get with RoadRunner. But by using Verio-san (Verio got bought out recently by some big Japanese telephone company) as my ISP instead, I get a fixed IP address, so I can hang an FTP server, an HTTP server, etc. on my connection, which I really like. RoadRunner gives you a few megabytes for HTTP and I don't know if they offer FTP at all; in contrast my firewall/masquerade box (a P5-100 with 32MB RAM) has got a 30GB hard drive. This has really come in handy at my job a few times when a client has wanted to send us a few tens of megabytes of CAD drawing files. I telneted home, set them up an account, then called them on the telephone a couple of minutes later and told them to FTP the files to ftp://<my IP address>. My peak download speeds are somewhat less than the peak speed of RoadRunner, I think the fastest I can remember getting downloads is about 75KB per second (which is, if I'm not mistaken, higher than the 64/256 they guarantee, isn't that 256kbits, not Kbytes?), but I can always get that speed, even during busy parts of the day.
When the GTE guy showed up at my house, he came inside, popped off from the wall that little muffin box where my telephone plugs in, and installed a little 1" x 3" circuit board which splits the signal out to two outlets, one for the phone and one that goes to the DSL modem. (You can talk on the phone at the same time as using the DSL connection, by the way.) Then he plugged in the DSL modem, tested it by plugging it into his laptop, and that was it. Everything else was my responsibility. Because I'm moderately technical myself (although I guess most K5 readers know far more about networking and computers in general than I do) I was able to take it from there, but I think nine out of ten ordinary home users would find this installation hopelessly inadequate. Maybe, however, if you order GTE ISP service as well as the GTE DSL line, they'll do a more complete installation, better suited to a non-technical customer. (By the way, you internet experts, how can I make my domain name visible without me running my own DNS server? That seems like a lot of work to publish only my one domain name. Is there free or real cheap DNS service available out there to point toward my IP address?)
Verio offers me NNTP, SMTP and POP3 servers, as does RoadRunner. Verio's service, in my experience, is first-rate, and so is RoadRunner's. I even talked to a helpful tech at RoadRunner once on a Sunday night! Neither of the two services has ever been down for more than about three hours, and that only once after a particularly nasty thunderstorm which also cut power to my house for an hour or so.
Finally, RoadRunner's terms of service forbid putting a masquerading machine on a home connection so multiple computers can access the service simultaneously. I don't know how they'd know if you did it, but those are their rules. RoadRunner also forbids running a web server on your home account. GTE/Verio has no objection to any of these things. So my advice to ordinary folks is, go with RoadRunner, because of the thorough and average-user-friendly installation, but for technically astute users I recommend DSL, provided the user can afford the extra $5 or $15 a month, because of all the advantages of having a fixed IP address. Someday soon I'll run a wire over from my firewall/masq box to my daughter's PC and cancel RoadRunner, which will save me almost $500 a year, which will buy old Dad a lot of beer, you betcha!
Yours WDK - WKiernan@concentric.net
"This calm way of flying will suit Japan well," said Zeppelin's granddaughter, Elisabeth Veil.