where "word of keystroke" begins

September 16, 1999 -- DSL vs. Cable for high-speed Internet access

Transcript of the live chat session that took place Thursday, September 16, 1999. For related article (updated Jan. 2001) see These sessions are normally scheduled for 12 noon-1 PM Eastern Time every Thursday. Please note that the US is now on Daylight Savings Time. So in international terms, we are on at GMT -5.

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Threads (reconstructed after the fact):

Today's participants


Richard Seltzer -- We'll be starting today's regular scheduled chat about DSL vs. Cable in about 50 minutes. If you arrive early, please open a separate browser window and go to [no longer online] Then click on the link there to run a Java applet that shows my smiling face, updated every few seconds. If you like, you can resize that Java window and the window of this chat room so you can see both at once. For a full-blown view of what can be done with the app (put together by Anthony Alvarez, who happens to be one of today's chat guests), go to [no longer online] There you'll see images of Anthony, together with links for reaching him by pager and by instant messaging. -- Hello all - Bob Zwick - Dallas Texas - independent netowking consultant here. Richard Who's on the phone ? (webcam)

Ron Rothenberg -- i am having trouble with popuplink in Opera, but livenetcam is working.

Harris Sussman -- how do you open a separate browser window?

Bob@CottageMicro.Com -- Click File in your browser and Open new browser window

Richard Seltzer -- All -- it's just about time to start. Please introduce yourselves and let us know your interests, that will help us get off to a quick start.

Richard Seltzer -- Our topic today is DSL vs. Cable. I see that Michael Katz from MediaOne is here and I believe that Amanda Berlied and Anthony Alvarez from Acunet should be connecting very shortly.

Amanda Berlied -- Hi Richard, I'm Amanda with Acunet

Anthony Alvarez -- Hi my name is Anthony Alvarez from Acunet

Curtis -- Hi Richard, I am with Nortel

Harris Sussman -- I'm ready to sign up with either DSL or cable--don't know which to go with

Richard Seltzer -- Harris, I've been tempted by faster access for some time, but the local cable company in Boston has been very slow in rolling out access in the city. It feels like the time is right and yes I'm hoping to learn more today about the pluses and minuses of DSL vs. Cable.

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome, Geert, Jeff, Bob, sjones, Chrisann, Harris, and Jay. It looks like we have a good group assembled. Please introduce yourselves and let us know your interests.

Harris Sussman -- well Bell Atlantic doesnt know how to market, can't answer questions about being my ISP; Acunet Sales hasn't replied to my interest in becoming a customer...

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome, Curtis, Bob Fleischer and others.

Harris Sussman -- Internet Connect ran an ad in Boston Globe, but couldn't tell me of anyone in Boston who's a customer

Jay Martin -- Following Harris' statement, can any end-users out there state their level of satisfaction with using either DSL or cable modems? 

Cable access -- benefits and drawbacks

Richard Seltzer -- Michael -- from you experience at MediaOne can you explain what you see to be the main benefits and the drawbacks of cable access? Issues that people seem confused about include: speed (this being shared and perhaps unpredictable), security (the urban myth -- or is it a myth -- that somebody could access your PC over the cable line), and whether you need a second phone line as well as a cable line (I understand some companies have set up cable access that way, with the up signals going by phone.)

Michael Katz -- Richard, the main benefit is speed. Secondly, not tying up a second phone line, the constant connection, and simiplified pricing. Some companies do require a phone line, using a hybrid technology. At MediaOne in New England, all of our cable modem service is "two way," meaning that both the upstream and the downstream is via the cable, and therefore no phone is needed.

Richard Seltzer -- Michael -- The question of a second phone line is important to me. I already pay about $50 a month for a second line, so the price of a new high speed service seems relatively low to me if I can get rid of that phone line. And, depending on the way the service company is set up, I gather that is possible with both cable and DSL.

Michael Katz -- Yes, if you are already paying for a second line for the purposes of Internet access, the decision to switch to MediaOne Road Runner is an easy one.

Richard Seltzer -- Michael -- what about up speed vs. down speed on your service? are they the same? or is up significantly lower than down? and how much does the speed vary with the number of customers in your neighborhood who happen to be connected at the same time? I've heard some people say that their service is no faster than dialup modem at busy times, and I've heard others say that it's lightning fast all the time. What is your experience? And what could lead to this variance of impressions?

Michael Katz -- The downstream speed (from the Internet to your computer is 1.5 megabits per second. The upstream speed is 300k. The speed you receive is theoretically related to other users in your neighborhood (about 250 customers share a fiber node), however at this point, our network is way overbuilt, and we have never been anywhere near capacity.

Harris Sussman -- Michael, the computer store tells me MediaOne love iMacs because they're easier to hook up--True?

Michael Katz -- harris. After three years selling cable modem service, we've seen just about every computer configuration in the home. We take about 2 hours per install, and will do the work on whatever machine you have that meets the minimum spec. Not sure on the IMac specifics.

Cable and confidentiality

Amanda Berlied -- Confidentiality can be an issue with cable as well as speed, if cable companies don't upgrade their capacity.

Michael Katz -- Amanda, that's more theoretical than reality. We default filter all of our customers (security), and in terms of speed, we montior capacity on a regular basis, and if and when we see any slowdown, can increase capacity dynamically.

Ron Rothenberg -- can you please explain what "confidentiality MAY be an issue" means exactly. I have never gotten a straight answer on that one, either.

Richard Seltzer -- Michael -- can you address the confidentialty/security issue? I've heard that from several sources. Is there an easy fix (from the user side or the service side)? What does MediaOne do and what do they recommend that users do to make sure no one can snoop on or change the files in their computers?

Michael Katz -- Richard, as I've said, we filter our customers by default, so although the security issue may have some merit from a technology standpoint, in practice we mitigate the risk to customers.

Richard Seltzer -- Michael -- what does "we default filter all out customers" mean? what is being "filtered?

Michael Katz -- Default filtering means that even if you allow access to your machine by turning off print and file sharing, we filter the ports that would leave you vulnerable, so that taking this action does not leave you vulnerable.

Curtis -- Default filtering is when they block ports, i.e. IP ports 2000 or greater. This inhibits, but not prohibits people from putting servers up.

Richard Seltzer -- Michael -- I just don't know the technical meaning of "filter" in this context. Sorry, I'm a writer not a programmer. What is it that you are filtering? And what is the purpose of this filtering? (What is the risk that it is mitigating? And how?) 

DSL -- benefits and drawbacks

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome, Amanda (from Acunet). Can you please give a quick summary of what you see as the main benefits and drawbacks of DSL. Also, can you give us a sense of how DSL might differ from one service company to another, and how Acunet has it set up. (e.g., up speed vs. down speed).

Jay -- Amanda, can you list the URL on Acunet's website that details which cities/areas Acunet services (or when such service would be available)? I am *soooo* tired of going to DSL providers' websites and not being able to find accurate and detailed info such as this.

Ron Rothenberg -- my problem with DSL providers has been the telemarketing -- I get calls from people who don't know what they're talking about, can't answer questions, give unclear answers on pricing -- can't email me the info (they have to fax it), and don't have web sites to explain it. I am in an area where we don't have access to cable connections.

Ron Rothenberg -- even when you call the home office, you still can't get clear and consistent answers.

Harris Sussman -- yes the marketing/sales people don't know what they're saying, have to refer you to technical people....

Amanda Berlied -- The difference between cable and DSL access is that cable is shared bandwith, where DSL is a dedicated access.

Harris Sussman -- this is not helping me decide---does anyone have DSL?

Amanda Berlied -- Harris, We provide DSL at Acunet

Harris Sussman -- Amanda, yes I know, but do you use it? As I said earlier, Acunet hasn't replied to my request for info.

Ron Rothenberg -- where is it possible to get clear answers to questions about DSL? I AM a technical guy, and can't get good answers from any providers.
Jay Martin -- I just tried call an Acunet DSL representative (508-804-1420), but got to an individual's voicemail... Argh!...

Jim Ritscher -- Anthony, is your company a DSL reseller, or do you offer the service directly?

Harris Sussman -- Anthony, many companies are now offering DSL? Any difference between DSL's?

Richard Seltzer -- Anthony -- how does an ISP get into the DSL business? do you partner with the local telephone company? Does the phone company provide the line and the installation?

anthony alvarez -- Acunet provides customer support, billing and the phone company handles the placement of the actual line.

Cost -- DSL vs. Cable

Harris Sussman -- Bell Atlantic DSL costs $198 for startup....

Harris Sussman -- Michael, what's the entry cost for cable, in addition to monthly...

Michael Katz -- Harris. Entry cost at the moment is Free installation with no long term committment (i.e. no contract to sign) and a 30 day money back guarantee. You would need to have a NIC installed in your computer. YOu can do it, or we will sell you one at $49 -- our cost.

Harris Sussman -- Michael --$49 compared to @198 for DSL????

Michael Katz -- Harris, I know, it's hard to believe!

Harris Sussman -- Anthony--what's the startup cost and monthly rate for Acunet?

anthony alvarez -- startup costs is a one time fee of $198
1 - activation - $99
2 - DSL modem -$99
For $79/month, the customer gets access speeds of 90KB up & 684KB down

anthony alvarez -- DSL is more expensive and it's dedicated bandwidth. That's the choice. Acunet also requires a NIC that is a DSL modem 

Location and availability -- can you get there from here?

Bob Fleischer -- I live in a small town. I'd love to have high speed anything available. My neighbors down the street think I have high speed access since I'm close enough to the phone office to get a 48K connection, and all they ever get is 28.8.

Michael Katz -- I think availability is a key question to ask. When we launch a town with Road Runner service, the entire town is available. That makes it simpler from both the customer perspective, and frankly from a marketing perspective as well.

Jay Martin -- The obstacle with cable modems (IMHO) is the fact that most towns (all towns?) have a singular (monopolistic) cable provider. So, if that cable provider provides cable modems, great. If not, you're out of luck. I would *kill* to have MedioOne in my town (Hudson, NH); even though we're right across the river (east) of Nashua (who has it), we can't get it.

Bob@CottageMicro.Com -- Bob F. - my small town is the same. I was just told by GTE if I want caller ID I have to write my state legislatures.

Ron Rothenberg -- we only got cable TV 8 years ago due to regulatory and legistlative problems. I am not holding my breath for cable connections in belmont,ma.

Bob@CottageMicro.Com -- with DSL don't you have to be within 4 miles of a telco switch ? If so that would limit that service to metropolitan areas.

Richard Seltzer -- Quick question -- where is cable from MediaOne and DSL from Acunet available today? Do your service areas overlap? Where do you plan to expand in the near future?

Michael Katz -- Richard, we are available to over 1 million homes in Mass and NH today, representing over 140 towns. YOU can see the list at

Anthony Alvarez -- Acunet's DSL coverage is

Jay Martin -- I just went over to MediaOne's "" site and entered my zip code for an availability check. What I got was:
We're sorry! It's not likely that MediaOne Road
Runner will be coming to your area. But
perhaps you'd like to learn if MediaOne Road
Runner is available for your friends or family.

Richard Seltzer -- Michael -- I live in Boston. In West Roxbury, to be exact. I don't think that MediaOne is available here yet. Will it be? And if so when? (Seems strange to avoid the major concentration of population).

Anthony Alvarez -- Acunet serves the following towns:
Boston - Back Bay
Boston - Bowdoin Square
Boston - Franklin Street
Boston - Harrison Street
Boston - South Boston
Cambridge - Kendall
Cambridge - Ware
East Boston
Fall River
Hyde Park
New Bedford
North Reading
West Roxbury

Jay Martin -- That's a great list...for Mass. How about NH? If you have a URL for that info, please display it.

Michael Katz-- The geographical limitations are frustrating, I know. However it's a function of where the MediaOne network goes. The only way to get cable modem access over Cablevison's network, is for them to make the decision to offer that to you.

Anthony Alvarez -- Acunet is available NOW!!! in W Roxsbury and Boston!!! GO for it

Michael Katz -- Jay, same URL for NH.

Anthony Alvarez -- Acunet will have NH coverage in 10/99!!!! check out acunet also has a 1 - 2 hr install time

Jay Martin -- Ah, that same URL says "Acunet DSL will be available in Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island soon." Oh well...

Jay Martin -- Anthony: do you have an area "roll out" list for 10/99 in NH?

Anthony Alvarez -- Acunet has service in W. Roxsbury.

Ron Rothenberg -- oops. I am in a not likely to be available area, too.

Michael Katz -- Richard, we are not the cable operator in Boston (or West roxbury) and have no plans to go there.

Richard Seltzer -- Michael -- So cable access can only come by way of the local cable TV provider? There has been no opening up of the lines so other service providers can use them? (as with telephone). What about DSL? Does it have predefined (by regulation) geographical limits? Could and will Acunet serve the whole Eastern Mass and South NH area with DSL (as they now seem to do with dialup POPs)?

Michael Katz -- Richard, anybody who builds a cable system in a town -- whether they offer TV or not -- could theoretically offer data services. The argument around "forced access" from the cable provider standpoint is that we took the risk to build these state of the art networks, and don't see why we should be forced to allow anybody else to use that asset to reach potential customers

Richard Seltzer -- Michael -- the geographic limitations are particularly frustrating for me. I live one block away from Dedham. They have had cable access by way of MediaOne for quite some time now. And there still is no word of how long it will take for our cable TV provider (CableVision) to offer Internet access. (Also, I'm confused by the corporate takeover stuff. I was under the impression that MediaOne and CableVision were part of the same company. Is that not the case?)

Michael Katz -- Richard, we are a separate company from Cablevision. ATT has an agreement to purchase MediaOne, and the deal should close in the next 12 months.

Richard Seltzer -- Michael -- is there any corporate connection between MediaOne and CableVision of Boston? I thought that the name of MediaOne used to be CableVision, but maybe there were several different corporate entities with that name. Confusing.

Michael Katz -- Richard, we were Continental Cablevision before we became MediaOne a few years back (when USWest purchased Continental). Lots of cable companies use the generic "cablevision" in their names. We have never been connected to Cablevision as a company.

anthony alvarez -- We service customers were they need to be serviced, not where we choose to service them. 

Always on vs. dialup

scott -- I've been using MediaOne for 18 months and while the anticipated speed increase is wonderful, it's the always on capability that has actually been most beneficial for us. I no longer build a mental (or paper) list of the all the places I want to surf then wait til I have some critical mass before I dial. Now I just walk over to the PC, check one URL instantly then move on...

Michael Katz -- Thank you Scott.

scott -- You're welcome, Michael...of course the same thing would apply to DSL! To be purely practical about it, it was a matter of which was available first in my neighborhood.

Richard Seltzer -- Scott -- yes the notion of "always on" is very important to me to. and I gather that is the case with both cable and DSL. Dialup is always chancy, and can be very frustrating when you are trying to do real business. E.g., sometimes in the middle of my chat program I might lose my link and have to log on again. So I am very much looking forward to upgrading soon. 

Speed expectations and reality

Bob@CottageMicro.Com -- No matter which you use (DSL/Cable) the speed is between you and your ISP. Throughput and download speed depends on several factors. ISP routing, Server Loading. I have seen a web page take longer to load on an 128 ISDN than a 28.8 Try downloading from a Microsoft server when a million others are also = SLOW

scott -- Bob's point is a good one -- one of the first things I became aware of when I started using M1 service was the speed of web sites that I frequented. Once I was confident the delays were not on my end, it became more obvious the bottlenecks were on the other end, and quite consistently at some sites.

Amanda Berlied -- again scott, if your provider does not upgrade their capacity, where this is a shared bandwith, you will experience slow access

Jay Martin -- Hmm...saying that "DSL is not shared" is not really true, is it? Afterall, individual DSL circuits end up going thru an aggregator/multiplexer box (DSLAM) that results in the sharing of a higher speed link, right?

Richard Seltzer -- As for monitoring capacity, what is the trigger speed? at what level do you dynamically increase capacity? (And that is likely to become more of a challenge over time as Web sites and individuals use more and more video/audio content.)

Michael Katz -- In terms of speed, it's not a trigger speed, so much as a capacity of the pipe question. If usage is in the 5% range on a given segment for example, we are nowhere near needing to increase capacity. This last mile is the issue, because from the central office or headend on back to the Internet, a cable modem provider and a DSL provider look the same.

Richard Seltzer -- Michael -- understood that the ISP only "controls the last mile", but whatever the speed of that last mile is the fastest you're every going to get. There will be bottlenecks to and from particular parts of the world and particular sites -- there will be ups and downs. When I connect with a 56K modem, I rarely see 56K performance, but I never see anything faster than that.

Michael Katz -- Richard, I agree with what you're saying about the bottlenecks. My point is that at 1.5Mb, you eliminate the last mile as the problem, and cable modem customers now "experience" the other bottlenecks, like slow servers for example. When you're on a dial up line, the line itself is typically the slowest point. Even if you had a 100 Mb connecting into your home, you can go faster at a sluggish server. 

Will high-speed access let you run a personal Web server from home?

Richard Seltzer -- Michael and Amanda -- are there any barriers to using this service to run a Web server off your PC? If you are connected all the time, and the up speed is reasonable, and you have a static network address, it might be tempting to experiment with a personal Web server (there's shareware/freeware available to do it). But are there rules or technical barriers that would make that difficult or undesirable?

Michael Katz -- Richard, we do not give static IP addresses, which could stand in the way of setting up a server, however there is no policy against this, as long as customers are not reselling our service in any way.

Business use?

Richard Seltzer -- Amanda and Michael -- are both DSL and cable appropriate for business environments as well as home? what advantages/disadvantages might come into play if you are linking up a local area network to the Internet with your service?

Michael Katz -- We only offer residential service at this time, so I don't have experience with the appropriateness in a business environment.

Harris Sussman -- basically, providers of both cable and DSL don't seem to be very friendly to home offices (business or residential?) or to multiple users in the same building....

Jay Martin -- Michael: I currently have 2 Class C networks. Is there any cost impact for operating the
connection using pre-assigned fixed IP addresses?

Michael Katz -- Jay, sorry, but you just went beyond my level of technical understanding (I'm the marketing guy!).

Richard Seltzer -- Amanda and Michael -- for instance, if I had a very small company, with about 5 PCs connected together on a LAN, and if I connected to the Internet by DSL or cable, what kind of speeds would I actually see? Would the shared bandwidth with cable mean that my five PCs each get only a fifth of the usual speed? Or am I misunderstand? And would my 5 PCs all get full speed with DSL?

Michael Katz -- Richard, yes, with our configuration, one cable modem gives you speeds up to the settings detailed earlier (1.5/300k). If you run a LAN behind that, they are in effect sharing this. In practice though, it's not really a problem. My entire office with well over 100 people shares a single T1, which is also at 1.54 Mb/s

Jay Martin -- Be careful about symmetry when you say "well over 100 people share a single T1" as compared with DSL.

Richard Seltzer -- Michael -- I was under the impression that a single cable modem could support several home/business PCs; but that with DSL I would need a separate DSL modem for each machine. That would be less startup cost with cable (maybe about $100 a piece for the extra modems for DSL). But I don't understand how the shared bandwidth would affect speed over cable in that case. My impression is that DSL speed is constant and predictable.

Michael Katz -- Richard, I'm not familiar with the DSL part of your question, so that's probably better answered by Amanda. The "guaranteed" speed concept, whether with DSL or any other Internet techology is a misnomer. The Internet itself has a variety of speeds, and the ISPs only control the last mile, so you're not guaranteed of anything beyond that. 

Connecting a home LAN?

scott -- Michael and Amanda -- what is the policy of each of your companies if I want to connect a LAN with 3-5 PCs rather than a single PC to your service?

Jay Martin -- I am *very* interested in the thread Scott has suggested, namely the cost/service issues surrounding connecting a home LAN to a service, rather than a single PC.

Michael Katz -- Jay, there is no increased cost for setting up your LAN.

Michael Katz -- We allow -- but don't support -- LANs in the home.

Jay Martin -- Michael: what do you mean when you say "We allow -- but don't support -- LANs in the home"??

scott -- Now that I know that my home LAN is allowed -- if not supported -- I can tell you all that it works just fine. I see absolutely no difference between the access speed from any of the machines on the network. Of course, I'm not placing much demand on the cable modem because this is, after all, a home LAN. Having said that though, I may doing moderately intensive web activity while working at home and my family sees no change on the other PCs.

Harris Sussman -- what about wiring a building with several tenants? my condo neighbor has RSN in Somerville.... 

Bundling services -- phone, TV, Internet

Harris Sussman -- What's the deal with bundling services--phone, TV, Internet--is that marketing compromising the technical capability?

Michael Katz -- Harris, I'm sorry, but I dont' understand your bundling questions

Curtis -- This something that Nortel is working on, but what is the interest of Voice over IP? Nortel is very close to offering a cable solution for that, which directly competes with the Baby Bells of the World. I know what the market is in Latin America. 

What about a year or two from now? Are these solutions upgradeable?

Richard Seltzer -- Also, Amanda and Michael -- how upgradeable are your solutions? We all know how fast Internet technology changes. Are there higher speed versions of DSL and cable in the labs now? Or are today's speeds near the theoretical limits?

Michael Katz -- Richard, we are very upgradable. The wire (in the case of a cable modem) isn't the limiting factor. We use that same wire to deliver 100 channels of full motion video. The end devices (modems) that we use today are 10 Mb symmetrical capable, and there are already faster speeds available out there, so we are confident we can grow as the applications grow.

Richard Seltzer -- An important factor to me -- and it may be due to a misunderstanding; please correct me -- is the direction of Internet use. I believe that as high-speed access becomes common place, Web sites and applications that take full advantage of that new higher bandwidth will multiply and flourish. (That's why I'm interested in talking next week about the related topic of business opportunities opened by high speed access). To me, that means that any shared access method is likely to degrade over the next year. Even if the number of users sharing the line remains constant, the volume of data that they will be pulling into their home is likely to go up many fold, and the time they spend on line is also likely to increase. That tends to lean me toward DSL. (And, of course, I don't yet have the choice of cable in West Roxbury even though I've had cable for television since about 1980.)

Michael Katz -- Richard, my recommendation would be that you get on with the proven (three years) service that cable modems offer relative to DSL. If you see the bandwidth degrade to the point where you want to go go elsewhere, I wouldn't argue with you!

Harris Sussman -- Richard, you concluded that DSL is better for highbandwidth uses--I concluded that cable is....

Richard Seltzer -- Harris -- I'm attracted by the constancy of the bandwidth. While MediaOne seems to have an excellent reputation for providing good high speed service at all times, other cable companies seem to have tripped up. Since I can't get cable at all right now, and when I can it will have to be through CableVision which will still be at the low low end of the learning curve, I think for me (and anyone else in Boston) DSL is the way to go.

anthony alvarez -- That's correct, DSL is the way to go at this time.

Michael Katz -- Richard, in defense of Cablevision, cable modem technology has been around for three years (millions of years in Internet time!), and DSL is yet unproven. Cablevision offer service in other parts of the country, and when they launch it here in Boston, I think they will benefit from both the tested aspect of the technology, and the transfer of knowledge from other parts of that company. 


Richard Seltzer -- All -- we're getting near the end of the hour. I think this has been a great topic. I plan to edit and post this transcript by tomorrow. Please check And please send me your followup questions and comments for me to add to the transcript.

Michael Katz -- Thanks for putting this together Richard, I appreciate being invited.

Richard Seltzer --Next week, I want to focus on the business opportunities opened by high speed access. I hope that you will all join us then, and we can continue to discuss these same issues in that context. (Also, please spread the word, and let me know if there are particular individuals you would like me to invite.)

Richard Seltzer -- All, before you log off, please post here your email address and URL so we can stay in touch. Don't presume that the software will capture that info.

Richard Seltzer -- Thanks very much to all and especially to Michael, Anthony, and Amanda.

anthony alvarez -- thank U Richard and Mike, it was a good chat
Amanda says hi also

Harris Sussman --

anthony alvarez --
Amanda can be reached at 508 804 1420 Send any questions to us at

Michael Katz -- Michael Katz:,

Richard Seltzer -- Thanks again. See you next Thursday.

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