How do you connect to the Internet? If you use your own computer, rather than a public connection, your choices are between dial-up and broadband. [First published July 2006.]
A dial-up connection is one where you connect a modem to your phone line. While the modem’s using the phone line you can’t make voice calls or use the phone for anything else.
Widely available and cheap.
Dial-up connections are widely available, and usually relatively cheap. For example, Xtra offer a plan that gives you two hours per month for NZ$5. Actrix offer a plan for 1 cent (NZ) per minute, plus a service fee of NZ$2 per month. (These are just examples, we’re not actually recommending any particular service.)
Large files are common.
The Internet is becoming more and more the home of large files, such as software updates (for example, crucial Microsoft Windows security updates), music, videos, photos, and even just large web pages.
Time-consuming, and error prone.
While dial-up Internet is fairly cheap, and readily available, it is also very slow, time-consuming, and error prone. Every dial-up user knows the frustration of trying to get connected when the lines are busy, the hassles of keeping others from making phonecalls for sometimes quite long periods.
Broadband is fast and reliable.
A broadband connection is always on. You don’t have to wait while you connect to the Internet — you just write an email, click Send and it’s instantly gone. Open your web browser and the page you want is right there. It doesn’t tie up the phoneline, either — one person can make phonecalls while another surfs the web. Broadband is also fast enough for several people to surf at the same time, if the computers and broadband modem are connected using a simple network.
Large files become realistic.
It’s also capable of handling very large files: software updates, videos, photos and sound files all arrive in your computer in just a few minutes, rather than possibly hours (or even days).
The video stories at Silence Speaks are about 5 minutes long. A tiny 250 by 200 pixel movie weighs in at 3.2Mb. A fast modem will download that movie in about 10 minutes. A mid-range broadband connection will download it in between 30 seconds and two minutes.
These days there are many large files you may want to download: training videos, recordings from conferences, slideshows from events, podcasts, music. A broadband connection makes it realistic to download such files.
Broadband costs more.
Broadband plans start at about NZ$30 per month. You usually have some one-off costs to buy the equipment and to get connected
Look for the cap that fits.
Many New Zealand broadband plans have a cap on the amount of data you can down- or up-load each month. This may be 1, 2, 10 Gigabytes or more. This is fine for normal web-surfing and emails. But if you download or stream (continually listen to or watch) high quality songs and videos, you can get through a month’s allowance in a few hours.
Some plans then charge by megabyte for the rest of the month — which rapidly gets very expensive — while others cut you back to that slow old modem speed, with no extra charge. Be sure to choose a plan that suits the way you work.
Check your protection.
With broadband your computer is connected to the Internet whenever it is switched on. This makes it easier for hackers to attack it. Make sure that you have up to date firewall, virus checker and security updates. This is especially important for computers running the Windows operating system.
Broadband users never go back.
Anecdotal evidence tells us that once someone has moved to broadband they would never consider going back to a dial-up connection. If your organisation is still using dial-up, then it’s time to at least consider broadband.
Handy price guides.
Update February 2008 — Consumer say:
Sorry, we are no longer maintaining our database of dial-up ISP providers.
Written for and reproduced from CommunityNet Aotearoa Panui, July 2006. This article may have been modified from the original.