Faster Internet access due this year DSL: High-speed technology is expected to be available in Baltimore by summer.

January 18, 1999|By Michael Stroh | Michael Stroh,Sun Staff

If you're fed up with the World Wide Wait, high-speed Internet service may be just around the corner in Baltimore.

Bell Atlantic says it plans to bring digital subscriber line (DSL) service to the city and Baltimore County by summer as part of a new partnership with America Online that was unveiled last week.

The high-speed technology is more than 20 times as fast as a standard 28.8 kbps dial-up modem and allows users to surf the Web and talk on the phone simultaneously -- over standard copper telephone wire.

The rollout could be good news for many area Internet junkies, particularly in Baltimore City. Although Comcast Corp.'s high-speed @Home cable service is available in Baltimore County and parts of Howard and Harford Counties, city residents have been shut out of the affordable high-speed market. (Tele-Communications Inc., the city's cable provider, says it will have @Home cable Internet service available in the city by the end of 1999.)

For Bell Atlantic, making DSL technology available is a difficult project. The company must upgrade many of its central offices and telephone lines, a costly and time-consuming process that has slowed the deployment of DSL throughout the country.

Yankee Group, a Boston-based telecommunications research concern, estimates that 425,000 homes across the United States have cable Internet service, while only 25,000 have DSL service. But by the end of 1999, Yankee estimates that 1 million homes will have cable Internet service nationwide and 250,000 DSL.

Bell Atlantic offers DSL in parts of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington, and northern New Jersey. But the partnership with AOL is speeding up the process.

"Does this deal mean we're accelerating our deployment of this technology? Yes, it does," said Bell Atlantic spokeswoman Joan Rasmussen.

When Bell Atlantic's Infospeed DSL becomes available, subscribers will have the option of signing up for Internet service with Bell Atlantic or another provider who supports DSL technology.

As part of the deal announced last week, those alternatives will include America Online. AOL, which has more than 4 million customers in Bell Atlantic's territory, plans to offer DSL service through Bell Atlantic under the AOL brand. It's expected to cost about $40 a month, twice as much as its regular dial-up service but the same as most cable companies charge.

Subscribers to the high-speed AOL service would also have to pay an installation fee and buy a DSL modem and a plug-in network card. AOL officials say those prices have yet to be determined.

Subscribers who chose to sign up directly with Bell Atlantic's DSL service will pay as little as $99 (depending on special offers) to have a technician come to their house and install the service, and as little as $49 for a DSL modem (with rebate). The company charges $59.95 a month for DSL Internet accounts.

Comcast's @Home Internet service, by contrast, costs $140 to install, plus $40 a month if you're a cable subscriber and $50 if you're not.

Bell Atlantic officials caution that even when DSL technology becomes available in Baltimore, not everybody will get it.

The technology has several limitations. DSL users must live within 2.5 miles of a telephone company central office and use a phone line free of devices that amplify or divert the signal. These limitations will exclude many people who live in rural areas, apartment complexes and suburban developments.

Industry analysts estimate that in areas where DSL is available, roughly two out of 5 residents won't be able to get it.

"Like with everything else, the technology will improve and we'll be able to overcome these limitations," Rasmussen said.

Pub Date: 01/18/99

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