Washington Apple Pi

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Replacing Your Dial-Up Internet Service Provider

© 2009 Tom Carlson

Washington Apple Pi Journal, reprint information

The Washington Apple Pi Internet service provider (ISP), Heller Information Systems, has informally told the Management Committee that it intends to stop providing dial-up Internet service sometime in 2009. The Pi is not looking for an ISP to replace Heller. This means that members who currently use the Pi's Explorer Internet service for dial-up access will need to find a new ISP, either another dial-up service provider or a high-speed Internet service -- for example, DSL, cable, or fiber optic service.

I recently changed from Explorer service to DSL, and helped my brother in his search for a new ISP. In the course of those activities I picked up a lot of information about available options. The purpose of this article is to share that information with Pi members who may need (or want) to find new Internet service.

Dial-Up Service Offerings

Explorer users who simply want to replace their dial-up ISP have four options: free 56K dial-up service; fee-paid 56K dial-up service; accelerated 56K dial-up service; and hybrid 56K dial-up service.

Free 56K dial-up service

Free Internet service providers are few and far between, and appear to be a dying breed. Most that are around are limited to hometown access and service. There is free 56K dial-up service available to Pi members in Maryland, however, through Sailor, Maryland's Public Information Network.

In 1999 The Maryland Public Libraries established free Internet access for Maryland residents through participating county libraries. Currently thirteen counties particpate in the program. Library cardholders must apply in person at their local library. Accounts are usually set up in about two weeks. Sailor’s Web site is: http://www.sailor.lib.md.us/. Click on the “About Sailor” link at the top of the page, to learn more about this free dial-up access.

Sailor Internet access isn’t a perfect substitute for the Pi’s Explorer service. It provides neither an E-mail box nor Web-site hosting space, both of which are included in Explorer. Of course, you can continue to use your “@wap.org” E-mail box for as long as you are a member of the Pi.

There is another issue with Sailor that you need to be aware of. The accounts expire after 13 weeks (90 days), and are not renewable. You can continue to use Sailor dial-up access, but you need to go back to the library two or three weeks before your existing account expires to apply for a new Sailor account in person.

Fee-paid 56K dial-up service

If you live in a smaller city, your locally owned phone/telecommunications company may offer dial-up service. In addition, there are a number of other companies that provide basic 56K dial-up service for a fee. I explored Copper.net, FasterMac.Net, Juno, Other World Computing, PeoplePC, Sofast, and Speakeasy.

Some but not all of these services are similar to the Pi’s Explorer service. For example, Other World Computing (owc.net) offers basic 56K service that includes E-mail boxes and 50 megabytes of personal Web space for $ 8.95 per month ($7.95 per month if you live in the greater Chicago area). It also has free 24-hour technical support. Other ISPs may not include E-mail boxes or the personal Web site hosting. And some ISPs provide technical support after initial installation and setup via a 900 phone number that can cost as much as $2 per minute, including the time you are on hold.

Accelerated 56K dial-up service

Some ISPs offer what is called accelerated dial-up service, which is somewhat faster -- allegedly 5 to 7 times faster -- than the basic dial-up option. The faster response applies to delivering Web pages (or text) to your computer; the material is compressed to speed delivery to your computer, and then is decompressed before it is displayed on your screen. Data downloads of streaming music, video, and software installers and upgrades are not accelerated.

Accelerated service is generally more expensive than basic dial-up service. Sites I checked that offer both basic and accelerated usually priced the accelerated dial-up access $2.00 or more higher than basic 56K service.

Vendors I researched with accelerated service are Copper.net, Earthlink, Faster Mac, Juno, NetZero, Other World Computing, PeoplePC, So Fast, and Toast.net.

Hybrid 56K dial-up service

Hybrid dial-up service refers to service that is free of charge if usage is low, but charges a fee to higher-volume users. NetZero, a national ISP with access numbers in many Maryland and Virginia communities, as well as in the District, is the only ISP I found that offers this service. NetZero does not charge you if your Internet connect time is less than ten hours a month. If you go over that, though, you are billed at their monthly rate.

Which one is right for you?

It depends. Lower prices generally means less customer service; technical help may be limited to E-mail or for-fee phone calls. Service hours may also be limited. Usually cheaper service also means no E-mail box and no server storage space for your personal Web site.

This is not universally true, however. Other World Computing does provide low-priced 56K service that includes E-mail, some server space, and 24-hour free technical support.

The bottom line is that you need to look carefully at all the ISPs you are considering and make sure you understand all the terms and conditions and potential charges. The ISPs differ in what they require from you to sign up, to pay and to terminate your agreement. For example, some vendors require a credit card. Some charge a fee to bill you by snail mail. Some offer month-to-month service while others only have annual contacts. There are also differences in the way they terminate contracts -- one was set up to only accept termination requests by phone, not by E-mail -- and whether the first and last month are pro-rated.

The ISPs also differ in the usage they permit. One dial-up ISP Web site said it would terminate your service agreement if you ran two sessions simultaneously (on separate phone lines). Another said it would terminate service if you used more than four times the normal dial-up usage, and defined normal monthly usage as ten hours. A third ISP defined unlimited service as not exceeding 150 hours per month. Most will end apparently idle sessions after 45 minutes.

In addition, unless you have unlimited long-distance phone service on your land line, you need to confirm that the local access number listed for your town is really within your local dialing service area. None of the ISPs will take responsibility for errors in their local access number list, and they will not reimburse you for long distance calls.

Should You Trade Up to High-Speed Internet Service?

While you are searching for a replacement for dial-up service, you should think about whether you want to trade up from dial-up. High-speed services such as DSL or cable are much faster than any dial-up service you can get. It is more expensive, but may not be a great deal more expensive. You may well decide, as I did, that it is worth it.

I upgraded from Explorer service to DSL in November 2008. My change was precipitated by retirement. When I was working, I did much of my Internet research on my employer’s computer network. (Company policy allowed it.) With retirement I lost that Internet access -- but at the same time, I gained time to pursue my interest in family history. I bought Reunion software to record my findings. Equipped with a copy of Grandma’s notes about her family’s beginnings in Nova Scotia and Grandpa’s family in the Massachusetts Bay and Rhode Island colonies (who were related to Roger Williams), I was off to the Internet, looking for long-lost relations. The more time I spent seeking out ancestors, and learning about their lives, the more time I found I was spending waiting for Web pages to paint themselves on the computer screen. I encountered some other problems with dial-up as well. The service was too slow to download the largest Tiger and Leopard Mac OS X software upgrades (70 megabytes or more) in a reasonable amount of time. And I was being gently pressured by my Pi Management Committee co-workers to upgrade to faster Internet service so I could participate in voice-over-IP conference calls and use other virtual meeting tools that were not available to dial-up users.

I waited a long time to find a good deal. In October 2008, I signed up for Verizon DSL with 3 Mbps maximum speed for download (to display Web pages and text, and download upgrades), and 768Kbps upload (for sending E-mail or posting photos on a Web site). Three Mbps is up to 50 times faster than dial-up at 56 Kbps.

At that time, Verizon had a special offer for their Freedom Phone customers. It offered the first six months of DSL service free, and the next six months for $21.99 per month, with no up-front charge for the equipment. That deal is not available now, but Verizon offers special deals for new customers periodically.

The installation was fairly easy. Verizon sent me a one-port router (that Verizon calls a modem), five filters for landline phones, and a CD-ROM with a wizard to help change preferences to Verizon DSL settings. They also had phone support, which I called when I needed help finishing the setup, and they walked me through it in about 30 minutes.


At the end of the day, the best choice for you will depend on how much you use the Internet and the extent to which you depend on it, as well as the particular contract, privacy and use policies, terms, and conditions you find.

If you are an Explorer user, now is the time to start the process of finding a replacement. I have included as an appendix to this article a list of the providers that I researched, with their offerings and Web addresses. There are more choices out there. When you are close to a decision, check the candidate companies’ reputations with the Better Business Bureau (http://www.bbb.org) and read Consumer Reports' most recent report on ISPs, from October 2007 (http://www.consumersearch.com/isp). If you need further assistance, pose your questions on the TCS Forums (http://tcs.wap.org/).

Appendix: Internet Service Providers Researched For This Article





















x-3 plans




[For Macintoshes]
[From Other World Computing]






[Owned by same company as NetZero]


x-2 plans






x-5 plans




Other World Computing
[For Macintoshes]






[Owned by Earthlink]






[Serves Montana]














x – 3 plans