TECHLINE by Curt Schleich

Finally moving into the fast lane

[JULY 29, 2000]  Sit back, close your eyes (ok, that doesn’t work very well here) and imagine this. You are in your convertible. With the top down. Driving along peacefully. On the interstate. Your right foot pressed all the way to the floor. The wind in your hair. Just humming along. In the slow lane. Screaming along at about 14 miles per hour.

Most of you reading this are familiar with this feeling because you are probably using a modem to connect to the internet and view this page. The rural parts of our fine country seem to be the forgotten stepchildren of the technology age. Since the mid-90’s ISDN has been available in urban areas all over. Cable modems have been around for a while. They have been in Williamsville since 1998! DSL is the hot new thing, and like all of the other technologies I’ve mentioned, it is nowhere in sight for our community. Our choices for internet access in this area have basically been a Frame-Relay line or a modem.

Frame-Relay technology is great, if you can afford it. A Frame-Relay line (once it is actually in and working) tends to be rock solid. It is available at many different speeds (the slowest of which is about one and a half times as fast as an average modem connection). It is also symmetrical – the same speed in both directions. Finally, being fully digital, instead of converting to analog, 56Kbps actually means 56Kbps. The down side is the expense. Using Frame-Relay you will have a bill from your internet service provider and the phone company. The average total monthly charges for the slowest line (56Kbps) come in around the $400 mark. Ouch!



At the other end of the scale, you have the lowly modem. Picture it. You bring home a brand new 4 billion gigahertz Pentium 17 computer and set it up. Designed 14 minutes ago, it still has about a half an hour to go before something newer, faster and cheaper is available. You turn it on, and before you can move your hand from the power switch to the mouse, your computer is completely booted up and waiting patiently for you to tell it "where you want to go today." Unfortunately, your only reasonable option for connection to the internet is the phone jack on your wall. The primary technology driving the telephone system was engineered in the 1920s.

Let me just let you in on a secret. Aside from the upgrade from rotary dialing to touch-tone, not much has changed since then. We are demanding things from our telephone technology that were never anticipated when it was designed. Add to that the corporate policies of our only choice for a phone company (which will remain nameless) that do not allow them to take even the few simple steps that they could to improve line quality for internet users and you have an equation that equals slow, unreliable internet access. Include a little rain or a hard frost to subtract a little more reliability from those old copper wires and you’ve got a pretty clear picture of the average user’s internet experience in rural America.



Analog modems are also asymmetrical. When Windows tells you that you connected to your provider at 43,000bps, there are a few things that it "forgot" to mention. Thing one: The 43,000bps is only the rate at which you download (get) information. Your upload (send) speed is probably (if you are lucky) somewhere in the mid 20,000bps range. In some cases I have seen upstream connection speeds of as low as 4,800bps. Of course, this number is not as important, but it does impact your internet experience. Thing two: The technology that you use with a modem to get information back and forth (called PPP, for Point to Point Protocol) takes up some of the speed in overhead. I haven’t even gotten to the part about winmodems (yuck), or the choice between (a) tying up your phone line or (b) paying for a second line. Not to mention the fact that "V.90 56K modem" is actually a Latin phrase which when translated means "get down on your knees and give thanks to the powers that be if you get over 40K." All right, enough of this rant for now. Oh yeah, almost forgot – the up side. It’s cheap.

(To top of second column)

Well, frustrated modem users, hang on to your hats, we’ve got the top down and we’re moving into the fast lane! CCAonline is offering wireless internet service beginning Aug. 1. Some of you may have seen the WICS-TV Channel 20 story that mentioned wireless internet. It aired during the 6 p.m. news on Tuesday, July 25. It was a great segment, with only one small exception. They mentioned that wireless internet will be twice as fast as an average modem connection, when actually only the slowest package will be twice as fast. At its fastest, it will be over 55 times faster! Starting at 64Kbps for around $50 per month, it will not be much more expensive than paying for the combination of an internet account and an extra phone line (typically between $35 and $55).

Wireless technology is symmetrical, so up and down speeds are the same. And (hang on – you modem users are not trained to expect this) 64Kbps actually means 64Kbps! No PPP overhead, and it is fully digital, so what you see is what you get.

Let’s talk about the down side. Entry costs are going to be prohibitive for some people. The minimum equipment includes a radio card for your computer, and cable and an antenna. More complicated installations will require more equipment and will be handled on a case-by-case basis. Typical equipment costs will be in the $400 range. If you are still reading, take heart, the worst is over.

If you are interested, you will be able to sign up at Computer Consulting Associates, 601 Keokuk in Lincoln, beginning Aug. 1. Once you are on the list, CCAonline will come out to your location to do a site survey. This will allow them to verify that you will be able to receive their signal without a problem. This will be very important until they (hopefully) get permission from the city of Lincoln to put up a 140-foot radio tower. After they have verified that there is good signal strength, they will schedule the installation. One of their technicians will then come on-site to install the radio card into your computer and aim the antenna.

At this point, you might want to put the top up. When you pull back onto the highway, you’ll be traveling much faster than you are probably used to. Online gamers take note: Ping times are awesome!

For business users, there are configurations that will allow your whole network to connect to the internet. With six different business options for service, you can choose the best balance between speed and economy. Best of all, there is no third party to pay or to argue with if things go wrong. CCAonline will have end-to-end quality control.

This is what is referred to as an "Always on" internet connection, so some of you may be concerned about security, and rightly so. However, CCAonline says they have provided a solution to that concern as well. They have set up connections to be protected by default. You will have full access, but no one will be able to contact your machine directly. For that to be possible, (in other words, for you to be able to set up a server or get hacked) CCAonline can set you up to bypass the protection. So security should only be a concern if you are trying to run a server from your computer.

More information will be available soon, including a form you can fill out to let CCAonline know that you are interested, at



CCAonline is excited to be stepping forward into the world of high-speed internet with the residents of Logan County. They say that together we can use this newly available technology to make Logan County a more convenient place to live, work and play.

Remember, the vehicle in which you choose to travel sets the only speed limit on this highway! Happy driving… er… surfing… um… oh, whatever!


[received as press release 
from Curtis V. Schleich, CCAonline]