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This chapter is from the book

Choosing a Cable Modem Connection

In 2000, more than 63 million U.S. homes subscribed to cable TV service, which means all those homes are wired for cable modem Internet access. Although cable modem access isn't available everywhere, more and more cable companies are adding it to their service lists. It's a popular option, but is it right for you?

Pros and Cons

As with any connection option, the important factors to consider about cable modem Internet access are cost, speed, and reliability. So how does cable modem stack up? Here are cable modem's pros:

  • The monthly cost of cable modem is about the same as that of a phone line and ISP—currently, right around $40 per month. If you don't find a free installation deal, you'll also pay an installation fee (about $100).

  • Cable modem connections are fast. Most provide speeds as high as 1.5 Mbps. That's 10,000 Kbps, as opposed to the 56 Kbps you get from a DUN/phone line connection.

  • Cable modem connections are "always on," meaning you don't have to dial in (and tie up a phone line) every time you want to go online.

But cable modem has its cons:

  • When you connect through cable, you're really on a LAN (local area network) with everyone else in your neighborhood. The more users that jump online at the same time, the slower your connection will be.

  • LANs allow file sharing, and so does your cable modem connection. If your file-sharing capabilities are activated, anyone on your cable line might have access to your files. This doesn't happen regularly, but security is a big concern for cable modem users. (You can disable file-sharing capabilities in the Network Control Panel settings of your PC, or in the File Sharing section of the Sharing Setup Control Panel of your Mac.)

Given the predictions for growing numbers of cable modem users, these "sharing" problems aren't likely to go away. Look for them to get worse before they get better.

Can You Do Cable Modem?

To find out whether cable modem access is available in your area, ask your cable company. If they don't offer it now, they soon will.

Most home computers can support a cable modem connection. The current standards call for a PC with at least a 66Mhz 486 processor or a Mac with at least a 68040 processor and 16MB of memory. The faster your machine, the better your performance will be; most pros recommend 32MB of RAM and a 166MHz Pentium or 250MHz PowerMac.

The good news about signing up for cable modem service is that the provider does most of the installation work for you. In most cases, the cable company sends a technician to your house to install the cable modem and to make sure that your computer can handle the connection.

Don't Let Fear Of NIC Keep You From Exploring Cable Modems

If your computer doesn't have a network card, the cable company will help you arrange to have one installed. They might have you take your computer to a service shop for NIC installation. If you're willing to do the installation yourself, the cable company might provide installation instructions. If you're uneasy about the install, though, don't mess with it; leave it to the pros, even if you have to pay a bit more for startup costs.

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