The Internet wars are on, with local high-speed service providers battling for your business. NWith their let's-smear-each-other ads in heavy rotation, it feels weirdly like a political contest.
But, then, the stakes are serious: $50 a month, every month, from each subscriber. Unless you've been spending a lot of waiting time while surfing the Web, downloading big files or otherwise racking up serious bills for dial-up online time, it isn't worth considering.
But -- and it's a biggie -- it doesn't take much for the frustration factor to kick in. Want to play real-time games online? Download MP3 files? Or even work from home? Online access that rips can be very compelling.
So, with both Sympatico's High Speed Edition (aka Bell) and Rogers@Home and Shaw@Home (aka the cable guys) offering promotional packages with free installation and a month of free service for new subscribers through June, NOW decided to check out the options. We used an informal test panel of professional software developers --that is, people who actually need fast Net connections.
There's no clear winner. And both cable and Bell have blackout areas scattered through the city, so you may not have any choice at all. You can find out if you can get either service by making a couple of quick phone calls (310-BELL for Sympatico; 1-888-288-4663 for Rogers or 290-6400 for Shaw).
Discounted rate Both cost $49.95 per month, with a $10 monthly discount for Bell long-distance customers or cable subscribers. (People living in apartments with TV cable provided are billed by Shaw and Rogers at a discounted rate -- as long as they're dealing with one cable company.)
Both promise set-up within a couple of business days, and the installation costs are similar. Bell quotes "around $110," while Rogers charges $150 for desktop PCs and $200 for Macs or laptops where they need to supply an ethernet card. And both let you talk on the phone while you're online.
With Bell, you'll need a special filter to keep modem hiss off your voice line. Make sure the installer leaves enough special jacks for your home phones.
The charges the utilities are lobbing at each other are true. The speed of Sympatico's High Speed Edition depends on your distance --by copper wire, not as the crow flies -- from the central office providing your service, and they won't even set you up if you're more than 4.5 kilometres away.
And even if your neighbour's connection is great, don't count on your home being wired by the same route.
Definitely faster Cable is definitely faster, about double Sympatico's High Speed Edition, but if all your neighbours are surfing by cable at the same time the service will slow down because it's been set up as a local area network (LAN). This also means that ensuring security takes more work than with a Bell connection. A virtual private network (VPN system) set up, for example, between your home and office, will provide an extremely secure encrypted channel. Our panel of testers experienced some degradation during peak-use periods, but overall cable is the fastest Internet service you'll get in this price range.
Bell allows subscribers to run their own LAN off a single connection, while the cable guys don't permit multiple machines to be connected via a hub or proxy server.
So if you don't want your neighbours to know what kind of porn you download, choose Bell. For sheer speed, go cable.
The competition is fierce, so if you miss the June promotion, more are almost certainly in the works.
A word of warning to anyone who thinks getting both right now might be a good way to choose: getting both services to run simultaneously on the same computer takes considerable technical know-how.