Recently, I decided that I wanted to improve my productivity, but in order to do so, I needed more bandwidth on my home computer modem. So I moved to Windsor, Nova Scotia, Canada, population about 3,800.
Yes, Windsor. My ancestral home. Birthplace of hockey. Land where the Acadians settled before the British forced them to move to Louisiana and become Cajuns. And a place where I can get a RADSL connection through my local phone company.
What is a RADSL connection, you ask? It stands for Rate Adaptive (or Asymmetrical) Digital Subscriber Line. And it means I'll be able to have the Internet live on my computer, all the time, at a very, very fast speed - about 250 times faster than the standard 28.8 modem. All over a regular phone line, using a RADSL modem.
When I'm working in Boston in the office, I'm using a T-1, about 1.5 megabytes per second. At home in Windsor, RADSL gives me a download time of 7 megabytes a second, which means I'll be able to work at about five times my "office" speed. Here's the best part - I still get to use that phone line for regular calls because RADSL doesn't affect normal service. And all for $30 US a month.
Until recently, the link from Internet Service Provider to end-user has always been what slowed download times because all that information was moving over copper wire. For years, experts believed that a regular phone line would never allow the kind of download speed obtainable over a digital connection or a cable modem. But RADSL uses frequency ranges for transmission higher than those used for voice, which allows those Internet bits of information to piggyback on the regular phone line.
It's not perfect. Speeds are affected by how far away your house is from the local telephone switching office. Even so, Maritime Tel and Tel, the company providing my service, says all customers will be able to get at least 3 megs per second.
So why can I get this in rural Nova Scotia, but not in most of the US? US telcos are still arguing about standards, although Microsoft, Intel, and Compaq are pushing them to get their acts in gear. About 100,000 Americans, however, do have RADSL in their homes, and that number is projected to reach about 500,000 next year. Compaq thinks RADSL is so important that it plans to offer a computer equipped with a RADSL modem.
Right now, the Internet is very much a text-based medium. In fact, thanks to services like e-mail, forums, and chat groups, it's probably been one of the best means of encouraging people to write again since we all started plopping down in front of the television set. But commercial interests have been chomping at the bit to get consumers better Internet access. Their motives are not to improve our communication skills, but to give us our every wish in a virtual form, be it the newest movie, or other entertainments designed to pry dollars from our wallets.
What I really hope RADSL gives us is more choice - the choice to communicate better, to access needed material faster, to live and work where we want.
* Tom Regan is the associate editor of The Christian Science Monitor's Electronic Edition. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org