Washington Apple Pi

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Verizon DSL - Internet at the Speed Of Mac

by Dave Ottalini

Washington Apple Pi Journal, reprint information

Looking for a high-speed Internet connection? Consumers have choices these days - including services from your local cable TV company and satellite dish provider. The alternative I chose is called DSL - or Digital Subscriber Line - from Verizon Communications- the local phone company. Other companies offer DSL service over Verizon's lines as well.

But does it really work on the Mac? It sure does - and there's no discrimination on the costs or setup. Whether PC or Mac, you still are going to pay about $40.00 per month for service. The equipment is the same, there's one manual with sections for both platforms and all the software you need comes on one hybrid CD.

As with any connected service, there are some important requirements - and caveats. Your home must be near the telephone company's DSL switching facility (check online at Verizon.net to see if you are). Your Mac must have an Ethernet port. Finally you may have to put up with some problems. Verizon has been hit hard by consumers angry over loss of connections and email troubles. I've experienced a bit of both.

But after a few months with the online service, I can tell you that not only does DSL work, it really works well for us Macintosh users. Verizon's DSL service was easy to install and gives me the Internet "at the speed of thought" or at least close to it.

But I will also tell you that I have not given up my WAP Explorer Internet dial-up service and I don't plan to for the foreseeable future. For one thing, it is so inexpensive that it makes a wonderful back-up and two, it's a great way for me to continue supporting the club. And I need it to upload files to my personal web page. But because I can still use my main phone while online, I can finally get rid of my second line and save some money there.

Getting Started

I'll admit that I didn't go seeking Verizon's DSL service. It sought me out thanks to a cold call to my home. But I will say that it has been something I'd been thinking about a great deal. Explorer is a great service, but it is comparatively slow - and I wanted something faster for downloads and to simply improve my on-line experience. It would also help improve my productivity, writing my weekly Journal Newspapers column.

So when the sales person called, I was ready and willing to give it a try. The bonus of getting a free DSL modem and a free month's service didn't hurt either (in March you could get a free digicam as well). To get that promotion, however, I had to sign up for a year's service. I made absolutely sure it would work with the Mac and I was assured it did. If not, the box of digital goodies they were sending me would have been returned quickly at their expense.

In a week or so, a box arrived with everything I would need. Each part was neatly packaged and numbered. Instructions were easy to read and well laid out. Nothing was missing. Basically you get a box containing the DSL Modem, a network card I did not need (it was for a PC), filters of various sorts for your phone lines, an instruction manual and software.

Before I could do anything, however, I had to invest in a Comslot 10/100 Ethernet card for my PowerMac 6400. Apple made few machines over the years without Ethernet. Unfortunately, mine was one. I ordered it online the day I ordered the DSL service and had the card installed and ready to go when the Verizon box arrived. The card has worked perfectly as advertised. This was not a problem for me since I have been using an external modem. If you are using the internal modem, it will have to removed if you have a 6400/6500 or other similar non-Ethernet Macs. If all you used it for was dial-in Internet service, then it's no big loss.

The rest of the installation went quickly and easily. I got a letter from Verizon confirming my order and letting me know when the service would be turned on (it would be a couple of weeks). I had to install the filters on all the phone jacks except the one I was going to use for the DSL line. Even that's not a problem if you want to use a phone too - they give you one of those little splitter plugs to use. If you have a wall-mounted phone, a special wall unit is included. They do ask how many phone plates you have - and if you have more than 5 or so, you'll have to buy more filters to make sure you can use a phone on that line. Just remember one filter per plug save the one for the DSL connection.

I installed the filters first on the day the DSL service began. Then I installed the modem and the software. I decided to be careful and try it out on my PowerBook first - that way if anything was trashed, it would not be on the PowerMac 6400. Installation went well and without a hitch.


But I should have known it would be too easy. I could not get a connection. You have to go through a registration process first to officially begin your service (and the free month did not begin until that happened). But no matter what I tried, I could not get online.

So I called Verizon Customer Service, expecting to be put on hold for the rest of my life. Alas it was not to be. A friendly person came on pretty quickly and we determined that the problem was the modem - it was not working properly. So he ordered me a new one and gave me instructions on how to return the broken one.

This was the biggest frustration I'd had so far - anticipation building up, expectations running high, and then to be stymied by a stupid piece of equipment. But we've all been through that and since I was once told patience is a virtue, I decided to be virtuous and wait. Besides, the WAP Explorer Service didn't mind - it kept me online without a complaint.

A few days later, the new modem came, I hooked it up and...still couldn't get online. Sheesh - what's going on here? Back to the phone and Verizon Customer Service. Here was my first experience with the dreaded technical problems I'd been reading about. It seemed their server used for getting people registered wasn't working. The solution - I was given a special login to use instead. I tried it and before I knew what was happening I heard James Earl Jones telling me "Welcome to Verizon." I was finally online with DSL service.

First Things First

Online, I went to the Verizon Web page and finished my registration. Remember, I was still on my PowerBook at this point. Everything from that moment went so smoothly, I installed the software on my 6400 and have not had a problem on my side since. The software not only installs the DSL application and TCP/IP configuration, but a new version of Netscape with a set of bookmarks added to yours (nice for first timers, but I dumped them quickly). You don't have to use it, but you can if you like. My Outlook Express email application worked fine too once configured.

What that means is dealing with a new email account: (yourname)@verizon.net. Family members can have their own accounts (up to 4 or 5) if you like. I set up Outlook so it will check both my Verizon and WAP email accounts so I don't miss anything. However you can't send email to a wap.org account through Verizon's email server (this is true for any non-Verizon account :receive, don't send.)

Online Troubles

I'd mentioned earlier experiencing some connection problems and I have - there have been a few times when I could not connect to the Verizon network - so no Internet or the email did not work. For me, the answer was easy - I simply switched over my TCP/IP configuration back to Explorer and was online quickly. But I was only able to get my wap.org email since the Verizon server was down. I checked later and things were working again.

I know other Verizon DSL users have had more troubles and frustrations with connection problems, but my experiences have not been bad and not lasted long. Besides, all online services experience troubles (any AOL or MSN users out there?).

We all need to remember that services like this are not foolproof - you're dealing with electronic equipment after all, with humans thrown in for good measure - so loosing service on occasion is part of the process. Never is best, but we all know that is not likely over time.


So how is the connection? It is everything that's promised and more. The DSL service works great for downloads (yes Napster downloads were much speedier) and QuickTime streaming movie trailers finally worked. My 6400 has lots of memory, a G3 upgrade card and an ATI Graphics card so it is maxed for the Internet - and together with DSL service it is performing about as well as I can expect.

Given my experiences, if you are looking for a higher speed Internet connection, DSL is a great way to go. There can be some equipment costs and there's that $40.00 a month charge. But the return in raw speed is wonderful. Verizon's advertisements are right - we live our life in real time. DSL gives us the Internet the same way. Or at least, close enough!