BY JEFF TINDALL
Tired of twiddling your thumbs waiting for that Web page to download? You're not alone.
More frequently, people are turning away from the low-speed modems operating on their standard telephone lines and subscribing to high-speed Internet access services.
And some of the services are very high-speed, indeed.
On Tuesday, Time Warner Cable will launch Road Runner, 50 times faster than a standard 56K modem, in Cincinnati.
Cincinnati will be the 10th market nationally to offer Road Runner, says Jennifer Mooney, Time Warner vice president of public affairs.
It joins what seems to be a fairly lively market for high-speed access. Yahoo! Internet Life magazine ranked Cincinnati 23rd in its 1999 ''America's Most Wired Cities'' study.
And when Cincinnati Bell launched ZoomTown in November, its point-to-multipoint service was the first in the country.
High-speed access has become a lifestyle issue as people more frequently browse the Internet and chat online.
There are two advantages with high-speed access:
|Services at a glance|
|Service ||Speed ||Install ||Monthly*|
|28K modem ||
56K modem ||
Road Runner ||
|Speed is measured in kb/s. ISDN is Integrated Services Digital Network. ADSL is Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line.
*Prices are low-end; cost may vary according to service and hours.
It makes access to Web sites faster.
It frees up a telephone because it doesn't share the family's line.
One word of warning: High-speed access won't work with all Web sites or some providers of online service.
At right is a comparative look at the four basic options for fast-speed internet access in the Tristate: Cable (Time Warner's Road Runner); Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL); Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN); and satellite access.
The top dog
ZoomTown, offered through Cincinnati Bell, comes into your house on an Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line.
Cincinnati Bell's version of ADSL offers different levels of service, priced according to speed. The fastest, about 25 times faster than a 56K modem connection, is nearly $300 per month. It includes an e-mail account. A lower level, that's six times faster than a 56K modem, costs $30-$40 per month. A personal Web site and additional e-mail addresses are available at additional cost.
Cincinnati Bell has more than 5,000 subscribers to ZoomTown, who make up 10 percent of ADSL customers nationwide.
When launched in November, ZoomTown got into homes the fastest of any new services in the country, according to Rob Pickering, director of Internet service development for Cincinnati Bell.
''We've made ADSL very available to our customer base,'' says Mr. Pickering. ''Other providers have been playing with it, but we knew it was the direction to go, and we've been aggressively deploying it to our customers.''
One.Net -- which markets its own version -- is one of several Cincinnati service providers using Bell phone lines to offer ADSL. More than 1,000 of One.Net's residential customers have subscribed.
''It comes down to a cost issue,'' says Andrew Closson, sales manager for One.Net. ''A lot of people are satisfied with a dial-up connection at a reduced rate. But if they're utilizing the Web a lot, then high-speed access is what they're interested in.''
ISDN, another service offered by Cincinnati Bell and various Internet providers has been around since the '70s. It offers a 128 kilobits per second data channel, still significantly faster than a 56K modem.
It costs about $136 per month, after an installation fee of $99. The price includes two e-mail addresses and space for a personal Web site.
''ISDN has a niche where it will continue to be very successful,'' says Mr. Pickering.
New kid on the block
Road Runner comes into your house on a cable line, which means you have to have Time Warner Cable to get it. The service includes five e-mail addresses and a personal Web site. It costs about $40 per month, after a $100 installation fee. The most basic cable costs about $9 a month.
''The primary advantage of Road Runner is high speed at low cost,'' says Ms. Mooney.
One difference between cable modem and Cincinnati Bell's ADSL, called ZoomTown, is dedicated bandwidth. With ZoomTown, you get the speed you pay for when you get a dedicated phone line. With cable, your speed is going to vary because you share the high-speed bandwidth with other cable users.
So, while Road Runner can deliver up to 10 megabits per second to a computer -- faster than any other service in the area even at its lowest speed -- the speed does vary. Time Warner says their system guarantees worst-case bandwidth that ''assumes continuous, maximal usage by every Road Runner user in a neighborhood, simultaneously.''
If sharing the bandwidth becomes an issue in the future, Ms. Mooney said, Time Warner will just upgrade.
For satellite TV
Another option that may become popular as satellite TV subscribers continue to increase is DirecPC from Hughes Network Systems. The advantages include its constant speed and availability about anywhere (not just in homes serviced by Time Warner or Cincinnati Bell.)
Users can get DirecPC with DirectTV or a la carte with other satellite services. There are two different dishes, depending on whether you also need TV service. For example, use the DirectTV dish, if you have that service, or add the DirecPC dish if you have a different service.
It costs about $200 for the hardware and $30 to $130 a month depending on the number of hours you subscribe to use. You get an e-mail account but no Web page.
PC Magazine calls DirecPC ''fast, useful and affordable.''