It sounds too cool to be true -- an Internet connection that downloads over 10 times faster than a 56-kbps modem, and that works over your current phone line while still allowing you to make voice calls as you surf the Web.
It's called ADSL, which stands for Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line, and Bell Atlantic is introducing the service. ADSL works by transmitting to and from your computer on an area of bandwidth that is unused during voice calls. It requires a special modem and the installation of a "splitter" at your home line, which peels this unused portion of bandwidth off and reserves it for Internet transmission. What's more, this connection stays open constantly, meaning that ADSL users won't have to log on every time they want to visit the Web.
But here's the catch: A prohibitive stack of onetime fees -- for the service connection, DSL modem and installation -- which add up to a grand total of $523 if you want to get started with ADSL using an Internet service provider other than Bell Atlantic.net. However, subscribe to Bell Atlantic.net's service for a year under their current special offer and that installation cost comes to just under $200, with monthly ADSL service with Bell Atlantic.net costing $60. For $40 a month, after the startup fees, you can buy Bell Atlantic's speedy ADSL service without Bell Atlantic.net's Internet access, but for the moment there's no information available about what other ISPs you can use this service with.
This has some ISPs, who would like to provide their customers with ADSL service, in a foul mood. Although Bell Atlantic's ADSL Web site (http:www.bell-atl.com/adsl) offers a friendly invitation to ISPs to become ADSL service providers, Paul Heller, president of Heller Information Services, an ISP based in Rockville, Md., complains that Bell Atlantic is not being forthcoming enough with information about how ISPs can offer this service to their customers. Howard Leadmon of ABSnet Internet Services feels the same way. "We've chased (Bell Atlantic) left and right," in an effort to find out about how to get ADSL service. Leadmon says he has heard "not a peep" from Bell Atlantic despite his efforts.
For Bell Atlantic's part, spokesman Larry Plumb says the sales force responsible for selling to ISPs only started responding to ISP requests for information last week. Mike Volgende, the company's director of marketing for remote access and video services, says requests from ISPs have been "in the hundreds." "From where I sit, I want to interconnect with as many ISPs as I can. ... The more the merrier," he says.