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If you want to send and receive email, send instant messages to your friends, or surf the web (to find information on almost anything), you will need a connection to the Internet.

Scan the Table of Contents for a quick overview of all possible methods to connect to the Internet. This page focuses on the less expensive methods, but mentions all possible methods.

The dial-up modem over an ordinary telephone line is almost always the least expensive approach, and can be used anywhere an ordinary telephone line exists or can be installed. It is also the slowest. The speed varies based on the equipment used; the distance to the central telephone office; and the condition of the telephone lines, which can vary with weather conditions.

My advice: start with a dial-up connection until you find the need for something more expensive or unless you have some special circumstance that makes one of the alternate methods less expensive.



What Is a Modem

"Modem" is the word commonly used for almost any electronic device used to connect between a computer and electrical wires, fiber optic cable, or antennae.

The word came from MOdulation / DEModulation, because, in general, the digital signals in your computer have to be modulated (converted to an audio signal) to be sent over the telephone wires and demodulated (converted back to a digital signal) at the other end for the receiving computer to understand the signals. Some technologies can transmit the digital signal directly over the telephone lines, and technically the electronic devices for those technologies should not be called modems. Not sure that is exactly true -- are, for example, ISDN and T1/T3 digital, or some alternate form of modulated signal.

A different type of modem is used for each of the technologies discussed on this page. In addition, there are many different types of dial-up modems, not all of which are compatible with each other or with all computers. Some dial-up modems will not work with your CFK computer, and the least expensive ones are the most troublesome.

Thus, you have to be careful when buying a modem to make sure you are getting what you need. See Modem below, modem recommendations, and buying computer equipment.

Internet Messages Hop from Computer to Computer

All information sent over the Internet (everything we've talked about or will talk about) is divided into small packets of information that "hop" from one computer to another until they reach the destination computer.

Yes, even if you send a voice message via your computer, your voice is chopped up into small packets of information. Computers can be used to make telephone calls with a fairly new technology called VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol(??)).

There is more that we could and should say about this -- understanding why some things on the Internet behave the way they do is easiest when you remember this.

<more later, probably on another page>

You Will Need an ISP

No matter what type of Internet connection you have, you will need and pay for the services of an ISP (Internet Service Provider) or a substitute. Some examples of ISPs include:

  • AOL (America On Line)
  • MSN (the MicroSoft Network)
  • <add one or two inexpensive or free national ISPs>
  • FastNet
  • EnterNet
  • RCN
  • Service Electric
  • "Ma Bell"
  • The company you work for

In some cases (dial-up connections) you explicitly choose your ISP, in other cases you have no choice, the provider of the service is also the ISP (cable TV and satellite Internet services, telephone connections other than dial-up (ISDN, DSL, T1), or the company you work for).

I divide dial-up ISPs into three categories:

  • "Expensive" national ISPs, like AOL and MSN, which typically charge $21 to $27 per month. One advantage of these (like the next category) is that they may have local access numbers all over the country, which may be useful if you travel with your computer. Note that some of these "expensive" national ISPs have special services for their customers only. Don't worry about it -- free alternatives for all of those services exist and you can exchange email with AOL and MSN customers no matter how you connect to the Internet. (One limitation that might exist -- I'm not sure that you can exchange instant messages with an AOL customer -- I think you can but I can't recall right now.)
  • Free or inexpensive national ISPs, like <later>. Like expensive national ISPs, they may have local access numbers all over the country, so they could be useful if you travel with your computer. These free or inexpensive ISPs make their money by including advertisements on (almost?) every page you view. This makes your dial-up telephone appear even slower than it really is. Some of these free ISPs offer you 10 free hours per month but then charge you for additonal hours. These additional hours can be expensive ($1.95 per hour) so, if you use one of these it is important to pay careful attention to how many hours you use each month. (10 hours a month can be very adequate, if for example you only use email and you read and reply to your email offline -- you can probably even do a little bit of web surfing or instant messaging -- but, don't fall asleep while you (or your child) is connected to the Internet -- that could be very expensive sleep.)
  • Local ISPs, like, in our area FastNet, EnterNet, and RCN (RCN is both a dial-up ISP and is the ISP for the TV cable and DSL Internet connection services it provides). These typically cost $12 to $20 per month for unlimited use and are what I prefer. Generally the lower prices are available only when you make a commitment for multiple months of service -- if you buy the service one month at a time it will cost you the highest rate.

Things You May Not Be Able to Do on the Internet

<this section needs more work>

Some words that might be useful in a rewrite:

  • The possibility of doing certain things (only) after you gain more expertise (like hosting a website, making (long distance) voice telephone calls, using a web cam -- you can do these things, but you will need more expertise that we are going to provide at this time on this web page -- and, especially for web hosting or P2P networking, the AUP and TOS of your ISP may restrict you from doing them, and some things are illegal on the Internet -- we may give you a general idea of some of those things, but you must learn what those are (copying (or making available for copying) copyrighted music, movies, writings, software)

Anyone can do certain things once they have an Internet connection:

There are many more things you could possibly do on the Internet, but some of these are limited by factors like your knowledge, the speed of your connection, your contract with your ISP, or the law.

Here is a list of items that are limited one or more of the factors listed above. <expound more later, probably on another page>

  • Limited by your knowledge
    • Host your own website
    • Share your Internet connection
    • Make free long distance telephone calls (to another computer or to a "real" telephone)
    • Make "videophone" calls

  • Limited by the speed of your Internet connection
    • Host your own website
    • Share your Internet connection
    • Make free long distance telephone calls (to another computer or to a "real" telephone)
    • Make "videophone" calls

  • Limited by your contract with your ISP
    • Host your own website
    • Share your Internet connection
    • Copy copyrighted material
    • Make copyrighted material available for others to download
    • Download music
    • Make music available for others to download
    • Allow adult materials to be viewed by minors
    • Make adult materials available for others to view

  • Limited by law
    • Copy copyrighted material
    • Make copyrighted material available for others to download
    • Download music
    • Make music available for others to download
    • Allow adult materials to be viewed by minors
    • Make adult materials available for others to view

You should be aware of the things that are illegal or are prohibited by the terms of your contract with your ISP, and act accordingly to avoid problems.

Some of these things are limited by more than one factor -- for example, copying copyrighted material except for fair use or with permission is illegal, and also usually violates the contract with your ISP. (SPAM: Laws recently passed in the US and being considered in other countries significantly limit reduce fair use rights that you used to have. Some lawmakers in the US are sponsoring new legislation to help restore some of those fair rights uses. If you are concerned, see <later> and consider helping in any way you can. (At the very least, you can find out where your local senators and congressmen stand and vote based on how well they support your position. This needs to be moved, and perhaps significantly reduced in strength to keep CFK non-political (I think), out of concern that political activism may be a problem for 501(c)(3) status -- but, I think something can be said, something should be said, and the meat of it can be on another page in a different domain (not CFK related).)

There are other things that may be legal for an adult but illegal for a child, and things that you will not want your child to find on the Internet.

Technological Dangers

<needs more work, including the title>

Some hazards on the Internet may be mitigated by technological means.

We'll need a section on firewalls, virus protection, and <what do you call it -- the programs that censor some websites based on their content to keep children from finding undesirable material.

Another topic to touch on is the danger of someone cracking your computer and then using your computer for illegal things (which firewalls attempt to protect against).

Secure Operating System


Virus Protection

Crack Detection

Site Censoring Software

Internet Connections via Telephone Line

Dial-Up Connection

A dial-up connection the least expensive and most widely available means for connecting to the Internet. There are many types of dial-up modems, some that will not work with your computer or OS, and some significantly more expensive than others. After reading the rest of this section, see dial-up modem recommendation.


Available anywhere a standard telephone line exists or can be installed.

_There are some special telephone systems that do not work with an ordinary analog modem -- these are telephone systems run by some varieties of PBXs which have voltages that can damage standard modems (and telephones). These are more often found in some hotels, businesses, or industrial and construction sites -- if you plan to connect there, learn more before you destroy your modem.)

Wish I could remember the name of the one I used to deal with -- it was a Bell Telephone system with a small local PBX.


Over the last 35 years, modem speed has increased from 120 bps to 56,000 bps. Common connection speeds today are in the range of 33,000 to 53,000 bps. Ideal conditions are required to achieve the higher speeds. The following factors are relevant:

<is some of this covered in the dial-up modem recommendation? should it remain there?>

  • line conditions (electrical noise, which varies with weather conditions and the use being made of telephone lines that are run in the same cable as yours, among other things)
  • line length (distance from your telephone to the telephone company office serving your telephone)
  • your ISP's equipment (you won't connect at 53,000 bps if his equipment is only capable of 33,000 bps)
  • the location of your ISP's equipment in relation to the telephone office (modems capable of achieving 53,000 bps require that the link between the ISP's modem and be digital)

Each time your modem connects to another computer a "negotiation" takes place -- the two modems (yours and the one on the other computer) experiment to find the fastest connection speed that works for both of them at the time of the connection. This may vary from day to day depending on things like what the other modem is, the weather (rain and dampness can increase the noise on a telephone circuit), the particular wire pairs used (at your central office your telelphone is switched between pairs of wires (at least conceptually) to make the circuit to your ISP -- on any given connection you may get a particulary good or bad circuit.

(Some (all?) modems will renegotiate if they seem to lose a connection (see an increased error rate), thus a connection may start off at one speed and later reduce to a lower speed.)

I have a 33,000 bps modem and can usually connect at that speed. I've tried a 56,000 bps modem and have gotten connection speeds ranging from about 24,000 to 36,000 bps (I am about 5 miles from my central telephone office, as the wire lies).


Using a standard modem is about the least expensive way to connect to the Internet. You will have three costs -- the equipment cost (one time), the telephone line cost (monthly), and the cost of an ISP (monthly).

For equipment cost, see #Equipment_Recommendation.

If you use your computer on the Internet a lot, you may want to get a second telephone line just for your computer.

Or, you can use your existing telephone line with a small cost in convenience -- you and the computer can't talk on the telephone at the same time. (New modems that comply with the V.92 standard can partially overcome this limitation if you have (pay for) call waiting -- while on the computer you can be notified of another call and pause your computer work briefly to take that call. I don't know what the limitation is on the length of interruption before the connection to your ISP is terminated -- it probably depends on both your telephone company's and ISP's policies.

Currently, I have a 2nd telephone line for my computer. Initially I got a line where I paid for each call (not unlimited free local calls). I stayed connected for long hours, and thus made only one or two calls a day. As time went on, I found myself being disconnected quite often, so it became more cost effective to pay for the service with free unlimited local calls. An interesting thing is that, once I did that, I got fewer disconnects.

You will also need an ISP (Internet Service Provider) -- this is the company that runs the other computer that your computer talks to to get on the Internet. The Internet connects thousands or millions of computers together -- when you send or receive a message from some other computer, the message is passed (the message hops) from one computer to another until it gets to the right computer -- your ISP provides the first computer (from your point of view) in this series of connected computers.

<should I mention traceroute to see the hops? Probably not here, maybe on another page linked here, like dial-up modem checklist -- I plan to make that page along with things like EthernetChecklist, SoundChecklist, etc. (either here or on Wikilearn).

See #You_will_need_an_ISP. An ISP for a dial-up line will cost you $0 to $27 per month. I recommend you spend $10 to $13 a month to get a local ISP with unlimited usage (by contracting for 3 months to a year of service at a time). If you can live with 10 hours or less per month of Internet connection time, consider a free ISP. I have no reason to recommend that anybody pay $20 to $27 per month for a national ISP unless you do a lot of travel and must use your computer away from home.

A Few Other Points About Costs

Make Sure You Are Not Paying Long Distance

You want to make sure you are not paying long distance telephone charges for your Internet connection. There are a few things to watch out for:

  • Many ISPs will offer what they think are local telephone numbers for you to call (to make an Internet connection), but they may be wrong. It is your responsibility to make sure that the number your computer is set up to call is a local telephone number. You can do this by checking the front of your telephone book in a section called <later> or by calling your operator and asking something like "I want to confirm that a call to 610/867-2345 (or whatever) is a local call from the telephone I am calling from."

  • Some ISPs will offer you the use of a toll free 800 number. Don't use it. The thing you may not find until you read enough of the fine print is that generally they find a way to charge you for your calls to this toll free number, often at a rate that works out to about $6 per hour. (Another thing to be careful about -- it is often easy to lose track of time while your on the Internet -- if you are using a local ISP with an "unlimited" agreement, this is not a problem, but if you are connecting over a long distance or "toll free line", or have a limited account with your ISP (like you get 10 free hours / month and then pay $2 to $6 per hour after that, you want to be very careful (unless you are rich)). Another possible danger here, and I don't know how realistic it is, are the scams where somebody starts you off on a toll free 800 number and then switches you to a pay as you go 900 number. I know this can happen on a voice call -- I presume it could happen on a "computer" call as well.

Supervise Your Child's Use of the Internet

  • Some of the above reiterates the need for you to supervise your child's use of the Internet. First of all, as will be stated elsewhere, your child can find things on the Internet that you don't want him to find, or people that are looking for children to exploit. In addition, your child could spend too much time on the Internet that detracts from his school work or social development. Finally, if your connection is one where you incur any per minute, per hour, or per connection costs, it could cost you more that you were budgeting for, and even far more than you can afford.

Equipment Recommendation

See dial-up modem recommendations.


DSL stands for Digital Subscriber Line. It is a means of getting faster data transmission over an (almost) standard telephone line.


Limited. The biggest limitation is that your house must be within about 18,000 feet (3 1/2) miles of the central telephone office serving you "as the wire lies" (not as the crow flies). I live in what I consider to be part of Bethlehem but cannot get DSL because I am something like 25,000 feet from my central telephone office.


Varies depending on your distance from the central telephone office, line condition, equipment your DSL provider uses, and so forth. In general though, it is many times faster than a standard telephone modem.

Some other things I should get into here:

  • A few typical speeds
  • Mentioning upload vs. download speed
  • Mentioning the possibility of hosting a web site, and the limitations that may exist in the AUP or TOS regarding this.

Open item: I don't think DSL lets you use the same line for voice and data -- or wait -- maybe it does??


In general, you will need an Ethernet card in your computer ($1 to $50). Your DSL provider will usually provide everything else required including the proper "modem". The DSL provider will work with your telephone company to get the telephone lines set up properly.

You will pay a monthly fee of $50 to 70 (or higher) to the DSL provider who will act as your ISP and will pay the telephone company for the lines.

Equipment Recommendation

In general, you will need an Ethernet card in your computer ($1 to $50). Your DSL provider will usually provide everything else required including the proper "modem".

A 10 Base T Ethernet card is more that sufficient.


An older, more expensive, and slower alternative to DSL -- at this time, don't even consider it. (Unless some phone company starts to offer a real bargain for this service, which I cannot imagine happening.) The other information provided here is just for historical interest. Oh, wait -- except it may work beyond 18,000 feet from your central telephone office??


Anywhere a phone line can be run (or is there a distance limitation).


128 kbps, although I think you can buy half an ISDN link to get 64 kbps?? In addition, this includes a voice line, so you do not need an ordinary voice line -- if you already have one you could get rid of it to offset a little of the cost of ISDN.


Last time I looked into it (several years ago -- at least 4 and possibly 8) it was over $100 / month. Like DSL, your provider will provide all the equipment you need except an Ethernet card (I think).

Equipment Recommendation

Like DSL, your provider will provide all the equipment you need

Special Circuits (T1 and T3)

These are special very expensive lines and high speed lines normally used only by businesses. (I've looked into a T1 recently and have been quoted figures from $400 to $1100 per month for a T1 -- not for myself -- I was thinking about trying to split the cost with a lot of my neighbors.)

Fractional T1s are available, IIRC, a 1/4 T1 was still close to $400 a month.

The one other advantage of a T1 or T3 is that the AUP and TOS generally do not restrict you from sharing a line with other computers (and other people or businesses) or from hosting a web site.




Equipment Recommendation

TV Cable

You can get an Internet connection over your TV cable, if your cable provider has the necessary equipment.

There are two types of equipment -- one way and two way cable modems. With a one way cable modem data from the Internet comes into your computer over the TV cable at a fast rate, but data going out from your computer must go over your telephone line at a much slower rate. This means that you need a telephone line in addition to your TV cable. (Generally, I think the cable modem will include a telephone modem for that purpose, and generally all equipment necessary except an Ethernet card in you computer is provided by the cable TV supplier (and he is your ISP).)

Something to make clear -- to use the Internet for any purpose your computer must both receive and send data -- it only receives data in response to a request for data -- if your computer doesn't send out any requests it won't get any data (ignoring things like snooping, pings, etc.)

Two way cable modems are better because data in both directions goes over the cable modem, and cheaper because you don't need a separate telephone line in addition to the cable.


In areas served by a cable TV company that has the necessary equimpment.


Many times faster than a telephone modem connection (give some ranges).

One thing to note is that the bandwidth available is divided among all subscribers on a particular "loop" -- the more neighbors are connected the less bandwidth available to you. _Explain bandwidth and speed and point out that there are similar restrictions on DSL, dial up (ahh, that's the better name for a standard modem), ISDN, T1, satellite, wireless, or whatever -- the bottleneck is probably somewhere other than the local loop.


RCN (my cable company) charges ~ $50 a month to customers that don't also subscribe to cable TV, ~$40 a month to customers that do. One way and two way are the same price -- you will get two way if you live in an area where it is available, you will get one way otherwise. (Something I've never directly asked them about is whether they will somehow provide a free telephone line if you subscribe must use a one way modem -- something that is at least possible in my case because RCN provides both my telephone and cable TV service.)

Equipment Recommendation

All supplied by the provider except the Ethernet card and telephone line, if required for a one way modem.

Fiber Optic

Later, but mention a few things like some municipal governments are providing it in some cities / areas at low cost.


Only after fiber optic cable is "deployed" in the area where you live. (Think of it as installing a special kind of new telephone wire.)




No idea (not available in my area).

Equipment Recommendation


Internet connectivity can be obtained via satellite. You will need a satellite dish similar to that used for satellite TV, or sometimes a little bigger. Some satellite connections are one-way (like one-way TV cable connectivity, you will need (and pay for) a telephone connection and modem to send data (usually requests for data) in the other direction. Other satellite connections are two way -- the difference depends on your provider -- some provide two way, some only provide one way.


Anywhere that a satellite dish can be installed with an unobstructed line of site to the sattelite. Generally, this is south, but may vary east - west based on your provider.


Fast (give a range) but another factor, latency, affects the speed and usefulness of your connection.

The common (geostationary) satellites are about 22,000 miles out in space. (Some satellites, by some providers, are or will be much closer, and latency will be less of a concern.) At this distance, the speed of light becomes a factor in the performance of your connection.

It is quite common for the first hop to a dial-up or ground based ISP to take 180 to 500 milliseconds. <Expound more>

For a satellite 22,000 miles above the earth there are at least 4 hops of 22,000 miles (you to the satellite, the satellite to the first ground based computer (the satellite ISP), and then, on the return trip, the last ground based computer (the satellite ISP) to the satellite and then the satellite to your computer). That adds up to about 88,000 miles which takes about 500 milliseconds at the speed of light. (No one has found a way to send these signals faster than the speed of light at this time. wink

Do some satellite providers provide caching on the satellite?

This gets a little confusing, but ...

Thus, although the data stream might be very fast once it gets going, there is a significant added delay to a satellite link that is not present on "terrestrial" links.

This can lead to an increased number of timeouts. Special software to run in your computer is provided by satellite ISPs to allow for this increased delay without timing out. Often this software works only in dos / Windows which means your computer (or an Internet gateway computer provided by you) must run dos / Windows.

So, if you request a big page ...

People that I've talked to are pleased with the performance of their satellite link.


That's embarrassing -- I looked a few weeks ago and don't remember anymore -- I think generally it was in the $60 to $120 range.

Equipment Recommendation

Your satellite ISP will provide all necessary equipment except perhaps an Ethernet card in your computer. You will have to run dos/Windows in your computer (or your Internet gateway computer).


Wireless is one of the latest technologies to be available for your Internet connection. (I'm not talking about a modem on a cell phone -- see #cell_phone_modem.)

Wireless Internet (or LAN) connectivity has three different applications:

  • Providing Internet connectivity for laptop users without wires in "public" places like an airport, bookstore / (Internet) cafe (for free or a fee)
  • Replacing wired LANs in industrial and office buildings to avoid the cost of new wiring
  • (The latest and most interesting application for me) An alternate to telephone lines, TV cable, or fiber-optic cable to provide "last mile" connectivity to the home


Not very common so far. Only available where an ISP has decided to install the necessary equipment within range of your neighborhood.


Fast (give a range).


Don't know of any local commercial ventures. I had / have a thought of trying to set up something in my neigborhood. I'd want to find a minimum of 30 customers who would:

  • each pay for $200 to $1000 worth of equipment (with something like half of that equipment installed on my house or some centralized equipment "shanty" with antenna tower.
  • split the cost of a T1 30 ways
  • pay me a little bit per month for my trouble

So, if we split a $1200 T1 30 ways, that would be $40 / month -- I'd try to charge $50 / month to pay for power, etc. and a little bit for my trouble. (To successfully (i.e., fairly, etc.) split a T1, we might need limits on bandwidth usage perhaps varying based on time of day, and policies and so forth to avoid getting shut down or sued for any of various legal problems that could arise (sharing copyrighted music, etc., etc., etc.)

1/30 th of a T1 is about 50,000 bps -- except at peak times of the day, not everyone will be using it at the same time, and if no one is running servers or P2P file sharing servers, I would think a T1 would adequately serve 30 households (or perhaps a lot more).

I only brought this up to give some idea of costs -- I have no idea what a commercial ISP would charge.

Equipment Recommendation

If an ISP offers this service, you will have to buy equipment that matches his (or he may supply it).

Cell phone modem

I'm almost certain I've heard of modems that can work with a cell phone. I have no interest in it whatsoever because I can't believe it would be cost competitive. There would only be rare circumstances in which I'd consider using such a modem.


Don't know.


Don't know.


Don't know.

Equipment Recommendation

Don't know.

Sharing an Internet Connection

There are ways to share an Internet connection either among several people in one house, or among several families in different houses.

Many ISPs restrict such sharing -- you will need to check the policies of your ISP.


Generally, sharing an Internet connection is something you do yourself (or one of your more geeky buddies does). Anywhere there is an Internet connection, there is a way to share it.


Since you are sharing the Internet connection, in general any one person's connection speed will be a fraction of the top rated speed for the (unshared) connection. It's just like sharing anything else -- if nobody else happens to be using the connection at some point in time, you will get the full bandwidth (speed) all to yourself. When more people are using the connection, you will see less speed and performance (more timeouts).


Since sharing an Internet connection is sharing an Internet connection, you (or the group sharing the connection) will have to pay for the full cost of the unshared connection. Then you will have some equipment costs that could be as little as $50 to $100 or higher depending on various details.

Equipment Recommendation

Several approaches:

  • A commercial Ethernet hub or switch (Linksys or similar for as little as $50) (plus wiring)

  • Make your own switch or hub using an "obsolete" computer and a few Ethernet cards -- could be almost free. Depends partially on the operating system (Linux and similar are free, Windows costs money unless the obsolete computer includes a valid licensed copy of Windows). Note that in some cases of sharing (like a satellite link and some cable TV or DSL connections, the sharing computer (gateway) may need to run Windows because certain required software works only in Windows.

  • Set your computer (workstation) to also serve as the sharing computer. (Windows supports this with ICW (?? Internet COnnection W???), Linux and similar can do the same thing.

Using Your Employer's Internet Connection from Home




Equipment Recommendation


  • () RandyKramer - 09 Feb 2003
  • <If you edit this page: add your name here; move this to the next line; and include your comment marker (initials), if you have created one, in parenthesis before your WikiName.>

Topic revision: r1 - 2003-03-17 - RandyKramer
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