The need for speed.  If you’ve been on the Net for years and years, you probably have found it annoying to wait for your pages to load.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have higher speed access?  I thought so, too.  Unfortunately, my phone company, PacBell, is unable to provide me even the free access to the benefits of a 56k modem, and forget having the opportunity to take advantage of their newer DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) technology with speeds to 1.5 Megabits (50 times faster than a 28.8 modem)!

You may be similarly affected and not even know it!  First, test your lines to see if they’re capable of the v.90 protocols, which determine whether you can benefit from a 56k modem.  This link will take you to the 3Com site to learn how to test your line.  Read all about it and try the test if you’re not technologically challenged.  If it works for you, you can probably safely use and benefit from a 56k modem.  Though you will not connect at 56k (for reasons that are not critical to know), you might connect at speeds up to about 47k, and that ain’t bad.  Of course, you must be assured that your ISP is set up for the v.90 standard.  You’ll have to check with them for this answer.  If your lines don’t qualify for a 56k modem, don’t waste your money.

If, however, like me, you find that your lines won’t support the v.90 standard, find out why.  If it’s because of noise (electrical interference) on the lines that are within your residence or place of business, you’ll have to clean that up on your own.  If, like me, however, your lines are “clean,” then the answers lie elsewhere.

No matter what I do, I can only occasionally connect at 28.8 (even with a 56k modem).  Usually I connect at 26.4 and sometimes at lower speeds.  I decided to call my phone company to inquire.  Pacific Bell representatives told me I was lucky to get even 26.4!  They said my lines are really a hybrid of sorts.  You see, they did not plan on the growth and need for lots of phone service in my area of Ventura County, CA.  So, in order to deliver dial tone to the growing masses, they chose to employ a technology known as Pair Gain.  In traditional phone delivery systems, there is a pair of copper wires, a direct connection, between you and the local phone company office serving your area.  This office is known as the CO or Central Office.

To serve more customers, the phone company chose a switching area between me and my local CO and electronically split a pair of copper lines into many, many others. Those many-pairs-from-one now serve numerous PacBell customers at a high ratio than one-to-one. PacBell gives dial tone to lots of customers without having to invest in costly upgrades to their network.  Sounds fine, no?  NO!  PacBell forgot (right!) that customers are gobbling up phone lines for more than voice lines.  We want multiple lines for fax machines and for Internet access.

When I voiced my concerns, the response was that PacBell had an obligation to deliver a line to me that was for voice, not for data.  They call it POTS, or Plain Old Telephone Service.  The representative went on to say that they were not obligated to provide me with a clean line that is also capable of high speed data.  The reality is that this is what consumers have come to expect.  Our expectation is that we can use our telephone line for voice, fax or data at our choosing, and that if we purchase a 56k modem, it will operate at the highest speed at which it is capable.  And PacBell knows this.  They know well what are their customers’ expectations.

In fact, the latest PacBell initiative to offer high speed DSL services to as many as 5 million California residential customers and 900,000 businesses by the end of 1999 is testament to their savvy.  They’ll get their butts kicked if they don’t offer this service at competitive prices.  After all, the cable companies want your business via cable modems at about the same prices that Pacific Bell is now offering DSL.  If you can get DSL, it will be a wonderful way to get what we all want – the World Wide Web and not the World Wide Wait.  You must also have a compatible ISP.  This does not, at this time, include AOL in most areas, including the area served by Pacific Bell.  However, higher speeds on AOL can be realized, as I understand it, by connecting to the Internet via a DSL-compatible ISP, such as PacBell Internet (PBI), and then connecting to AOL through your ISP.

It boils down to this.  Because of where I chose to live, I’m getting screwed by my phone company, Pacific Bell.  I pay for FIVE telephone lines in my home and I can’t get what I need from PacBell.  I could have selected another community, even one in a lousy, run down and unsafe neighborhood, and still qualified for great 56k service as well as DSL service from Pacific Bell.  I had no way of knowing I would be in this situation when I moved to this wonderful community in 1993.  These issues did not exist.  I believe that Pacifc Bell knew these issues were on the table and chose to ignore them, or at least to set them aside.

I have always enjoyed superb service from MY phone company and from all their personnel.  I selected this community in part because it is served by PacBell.  I know how important telephone service is to me and to my business.  I have lived in an area served by our other telco, GTE.  When I lived in Santa Monica and was served by GTE, it was a nightmare.  Service was lousy and the personnel were worse.  It was not a pleasant experience.  I vowed that this would not happen again.  I grew up with PacBell and had confidence in their ability and in their customer service.  Through the years as a PacBell customer, I enjoyed outstanding service and customer care.  And now this!

There are other considerations, though, in fairness to all parties concerned.  The v.90 standard for 56k modems requires a good, clean line.  It is generally accepted that there is a distance limit from the CO to the home or office, even with solid copper, of about 2.5 miles.  Over that limit and it just is not possible for a 56k modem to work.  That is why it is a good idea to test the lines as indicated above.  Of course, customers can also call their local telco and simply ask, but that’s no fun!

For the new, higher speed DSL, the distance limitation is up to about 17,500 feet from the CO.  By the way, DSL is a better way to go than the competing offerings from the cable companies, cable modems.  With DSL, your performance is assured, regardless of the number of others “online” at the same time.  With cable modems, performance can suffer severely as others jump online at the same time and have to share bandwidth.  Don’t be fooled!  DSL is the best path to high speed access – if you can get it.

In my case, the lines run, I am told, up to 5.5 miles underground from the CO to bring dial tone to me and to my neighbors.  PacBell needs a new local CO or some other plan in order to provide this area with modern services.  They have announced no plans to serve us with upgraded services any time soon.  Regardless of distance from the CO, though, a Pair Gain system does not support modem speeds above 28k and does not support DSL.  Period.

I want to at least be able to take advantage of a 56k modem and can’t  I will not be offered DSL service at any price.  My only option is the higher-priced and lower quality ISDN service.  And that is why I believe my phone company hath forsaken me.

This might be a little more palatable if it were not for another Pacific Bell boondoggle, one that they would prefer I did not mention and one that deserves more investigative work by the new media, I believe.  This involves their prior recent foray into the world of high speed data and voice communications, combined with delivery of television service over a high speed fiberoptic network.  They wanted to compete with the cable industry.  Pacific Bell spent, by some estimates, as much as $16 Billion to deploy so-called broadband services.  Then, they gave it all up.  In order to avoid federally-mandated tariffs on this network, even though it was not to be used as projected, Pacific Bell is paying to rip most of it out!  Who is really paying for this?  Is it the taxpayers?  Is it the Pacific Bell customers?  Is it the Pacific Bell shareholders (Pacific Bell is now part of SBC Communications)?  I don’t know the answers.  Pacific Bell hasn’t gotten back to me yet on this one.

Just think what progress could have been made if that money would have gone toward modernizing MY service!  And maybe yours!

Is your community also suffering?  Test your lines, do your homework and then make some noise with your phone company!  Tell them it is unacceptable to not be afforded the opportunity to participate in the modern world!

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