Computer/broadband Page

A Little History...

In the beginning I started my web surfing like most people. I used a U.S. Robotics 28.8K analog modem and dialed up over the phone lines. My provider, Kiva Networking offers the standard $20 unlimited-usage package. I wasn't happy with the performance for a couple reasons. At work we have a T1 connection which is super-fast. Secondly, my home phone line is not very clean. This resulted in frequent disconnections and slow connection speeds.

Then, in August 1997, Ameritech did something wonderful. They lowered their ISDN rates in Indiana. Monthly charges dropped from ~$100 to $45. Per-minute charges and line extender fees were dropped. Now ISDN was reasonably priced, and worth seriously considering for personal internet access.

For those of you who don't know what ISDN is, here's a quick lesson. ISDN is basically a 'digital phone line'. It uses the same wires as your regular phone line, but electronically it is 3 phone lines. There is a 9.6Kbps line, called a 'D channel', and two 64Kbps lines, called 'B channels'. The D channel does the signaling, and the B channels carry the data. The two 64Kbps channels can be electronically combined into one 128Kbps channel. Also, since the line is digital there is no line noise and no line dropouts. Sounding good yet? You have to have an ISDN modem (officially called a 'terminal adapter' or 'TA'). The only bad thing about the ISDN line is that it is powered by the ISDN terminal adapter. If the power goes off you lose your ISDN line. Note: You still need a regular analog modem for faxing, BBSs, etc. I have my 56K analog modem connected to my ISDN modem analog phone jack and get 50K connection speeds. Using the analog phone line my connection speeds are 24-26K.

Kiva is the only ISP that offers local access in our area. They offer two different ISDN packages. 64K for $40/month, and 128K for $70/month, both being unlimited usage. I was disappointed at the cost of the 128K package. If I lived in Bloomington I could get 128K access through Microsoft Network for $50/month, or through GTE for $35/month. I wanted 128K access since ISDN is always advertised at a rate of 128Kbps. I wasn't going to spend $70/month for internet access, though, so I ordered the 64K package.

The next thing I needed was the terminal adapter. After much web surfing I decided on two ISDN modems, the internal Diamond SupraNetCommander or the external 3Com ImpactIQ. Since I didn't have any extra serial ports I went with the internal NetCommander.

Some problems...

When the NetCommander arrived I installed it and fired it up. The LED on the back of the NetCommander showed no connection, and it didn't work. After several calls to AmeriTech I was told my ISDN installation had been delayed 5 weeks so they could install 'additional equipment', which was the line extender. If you live 3 1/2 miles or so (6000 meters is the official number) from the central telephone office you need a line extender to boost the signal. On the new installation date I came home from work to find the NetCommander LED showing a good connection. Yeah!! However, after setting up the modem and software it would not connect correctly. I tried many different things to determine the problem. The only thing I found out is that the modem would work when set to 56Kbps but not at 64Kbps.

I made several calls to Kiva, Diamond, and Ameritech to try to find out the problem. Finally, Ameritech performed a 'loop test' and determined that the problem was in their line. THAT SAME DAY an Ameritech crew determined the line extender had been set up wrong and fixed the problem. They even came to my house and made sure everything was working.

How sweet it is...

The performance of the ISDN is heavenly. It is much faster than the 28.8 modem. The line is noise-free, dials instantly, and has never dropped out. I found out the Kiva 64K ISDN package also included a standard analog account, and a total of 3 mail accounts. That's a better deal than I originally thought it was. I don't know if the same goes for the 128K package.

Never content...

Recently I purchased the 3Com ImpactIQ terminal adapter and a Pacific CommWare TurboExpress Port high-speed serial card. I wanted to try an external ISDN modem, and since I needed another serial port I bought a high-speed one in case I'd upgrade to 128Kbps one of these days. Not that there's anything wrong with the NetCommander, it works fine. I like to leave my fax machine on all the time, and this requires leaving my computer on all the time since the NetCommander is internal. I also like the status lights on the external modems.

Since I've been using the 3Com ISDN modem I've found another nice has a more versatile analog phone jack setup than the NetCommander. The NetCommander had one phone jack on the back. The 3Com has two phone jacks, and you can set it up to ring certain phone numbers to certain ports. My fax number (812-275-7629) rings my fax machine only, and ditto for the modem.

The real-world costs...

Ameritech charges $45.35/month for ISDN, and adding local fees and taxes (for Lawrence County, Indiana, only) brings the total to $51.98/month. Internet access through Kiva adds another $40/month. For comparisons, keep in mind that ISDN has two lines and the Kiva ISDN package includes both ISDN and analog access. Both of the ISDN modems I used were bought for ~$200 from NECX Direct.

Update Summer 1999 - I switched my ISP to Hoosier PC. They are located in Bedford, and offer 128K ISDN access for $40/month. Their service has been excellent.

Also, due to a lightening strike, I now use a 3Com ISDN Lan Modem for my internet access. Now all my computers can use my 128K ISDN access as the same time! The LAN modem is a combination of ISDN modem, router, and 4-port hub.

The future...

At the present time ISDN is my only alternative to the analog line for internet access. However, emerging technologies such as ADSL and cable modems offer exciting possibilities for very high speed (1.5Mbps and up) access to the Internet. TCI has cable service in our area. Hopefully, one of these days they will offer TCI @Home cable modem service. I've checked into Ameritech's ADSL offerings. It's not available in our area either, and there's some things about it I don't like. It doesn't interface with Ethernet networks (which I have at home), and it doesn't offer regular analog phone access (which would be very convenient). It's all pie in the sky now though. Maybe someday....

Update Summer 2000 - DishNetwork is promising to deliver 2-way satellite internet access at "DSL performance and price". It will be delivered through Gilat-to-Home, and is supposed to start this fall. We'll see....

Update July 2000 - Well, the initial offerings of the Gilat system seem disappointing. $500 for a 500MHz computer with a proprietary PCI interface card...$200 installation charge...and a commitment of 3 years at $70/month. Speeds are advertised from 150Kbps to 1Mbps. I'll be monitoring DBSForums to see how the systems actually work.

Update March 2001 - Insight Communications is rebuilding the cable system in the area and plan to offer cable internet access. This should be great when it gets installed...if it ever gets installed. Last summer they said it would be ready in November. In November they said January. In January they said February. In February they said March. Now they're saying May. I'm getting fed up with their cluelessness. It's a good thing I have lots of patience...

April 13, 2001 - I just had my Insight@Home cable modem service installed. Totally awesome! I'm getting download speeds in excess of 3000Kbps and uploads of around 1000Kbps. All for $35/month. $60/month cheaper than my ISDN. 7 email accounts, 70MB of webspace, connected 24/7. The ISDN has been disconnected.

February 2002 - Due to the bankruptcy and demise of @Home, Insight is converting to their own network. It will be called So far the transition has gone very well. Download speeds are still in the 3000 Kbps range, although uploads seem to be capped at 128Kbps. They plan to keep the features of @Home, as well as add some more of their own. They have changed from a static IP address to dynamic addresses...not a big deal for most people. I'm not thrilled about the 128K upload cap. If @Home could do 1000K then so could Insight.

September 2004 - Insight upgraded the basic internet accounts from 3000/128 to 4000/256. This was a welcome upgrade as the 128 upload was too slow for broadband. I'd still like to see the upload higher...384 or 512 would be nice. I still remember the @Home days of 1000+. Insight offers a 'Plus' package that is now 4000/384 but it is an additional $35. It was overpriced before and especially so now.

December 2004 - Insight performed another upgrade and raised the upload rate to 384K. Good job! How about 512? Insight also upgraded their 'Plus' package to 6000/512, but the $35 upcharge still seems way too high. For that kind of money they should uncap the limits, give a static IP address, and allow a limited server setup. I'd go for that in a heartbeat.

November 2006 - Great balls of fire! Insightbb performed another upgrade and raised the speeds to 10000/1000 and 15000/1500 for the 'Plus' package. Awesome!!

Follow the links below or click here to go back to my homepage.


Comcast speed test site

Great site for speed tests


SBC DSL - another alternative creeping into our area

Cinergy/Current - broadband over power lines. A potential alternative for those not served by cable or DSL. I might even switch when/if they come to my area. For $40/month they offer a 3000/3000 package (yes, 3000 BOTH ways). For $10 more you can have a static IP address and host a website. That's the kind of competition I like to see!

NMCI computers - an $8+ BILLION Clinton era debacle that puts military computing in the hands of a private company (EDS). The same computers are rented for thousands of dollars every year. Poor service and incompatibility for big bucks. Thanks Bill!!

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