Part 1 in a series describing choices for Internet access in rural Sonoma County

If you live in an area where you can get either DSL or cable Internet access, you should. Nobody ever regrets getting a fast Internet connection. DSL and cable are comparably priced; nothing else comes close for the price. SBC/Pacific Bell used to charge a premium for DSL at a business location, but businesses can now get DSL for the same price as residential customers if they’re careful.

Cable is a perfectly good choice for most people, although you may not be able to make a secure VPN connection to a company network – check carefully if you want to have remote access to your office. There’s hints in the air that cable companies may start patrolling their circuits – preventing people from using file sharing programs or charging for extra bandwidth, for example. But nothing like that is happening yet.

SBC has driven most competitors out of the DSL business. The other companies offering DSL access – Earthlink, MSN, AOL – are resellers of SBC circuits, for all intents and purposes. All of the big companies supply software designed to hijack your Internet browser and expose you to advertising, but SBC did a particularly disastrous deal with Yahoo. SBC’s software overwhelms your computer with annoying software and advertising, and they mucked up everybody’s e-mail. SBC and the other big companies also provide an inferior type of DSL service called PPPOE that requires your computer to log in before a connection is established – fine when it works and a pain when there’s a glitch. It’s possible to get a decent straightforward DSL circuit from SBC and avoid the Yahoo nonsense, but it requires knowing a lot of buzzwords when the order is placed and an experienced hand to set up the computer.

In Sonoma County and the Bay Area, order DSL from Sonic.Net, a local ISP that resells SBC circuits but does it with style. They automatically supply the right kind of DSL circuit with the right kind of equipment, and they are at the top of their game for support. As far as I know, Sonic is solvent and prepared to stay in business, no easy feat in the telecommunications and ISP business. Highly recommended.

Now the bad news. If you do not already have access to DSL or cable Internet access, you are out of luck for the foreseeable future. The cable system in Sonoma County is a mess – a new company is taking over and there’s a lot of very expensive cable to run before new areas can be brought online. I don’t expect much from the cable company for years.

And SBC has completely stopped expanding DSL service to new areas. If you’re in a rural area, you’re not in their thoughts. SBC told me that my area – one mile outside the existing service area in Sebastopol – was scheduled for DSL service in 2007. Partially it’s politics – the Bells are boo-hooing in Washington, trying to get the government to give them regulatory cover to put more competitors out of business before they expand broadband coverage. Partially it’s the economy, which is hammering all telecommunications companies, big and small. And partially it’s that SBC’s takeover of Pacific Bell is proving to be a complete disaster for consumers, as customer support disappears and new services are postponed indefinitely.

Next: satellite pros and cons.

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