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Another speedy Internet connection slowly arrives

By DAVE GUSSOW, Times Technology Editor

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 1999

Slowly but surely, another high-speed route to the Internet is becoming available in the Tampa Bay area.

GTE's new service allows users to surf the Internet by telephone at speeds up to 50 times faster than normal dial-up hookups -- and they can talk on the phone at the same time. The service is called ADSL (for asymmetric digital subscriber line), and so far it is being offered mainly to businesses.

Cable modems, such as Time Warner's Road Runner, have drawn the most attention in the race to provide high-speed Internet connections for home and small-business users. Cable TV companies have moved faster than their telephone competitors, which are playing catch-up.

ADSL is not cheap. GTE has four levels of service, ranging from 256,000 bits per second to 1.5-million bps. Prices range from $40 to $120 a month, not including installation and an Internet service provider. Compare that to $39.95 a month for Road Runner cable modem service (offered mostly in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties), which does not include installation but does use Time Warner as the ISP.

In a test conducted in Atlanta, PC Magazine (www.pcmag.com) reported in its March 23 edition that ADSL was 50 percent to more than 100 percent faster than cable on three file downloads.

GTE announced the rollout of the service in April with a lot of fanfare, naming the bay area as one of the first markets to get the service. It hit a snag when GTE found no Internet service providers ready to offer ADSL.

"Now that ISPs are coming on board, we're seeing requests for service snowball," said Mary Charbonneau of GTE.

Thirteen ISPs from New Port Richey to south of Sarasota offer the service. (For a complete list, check www.gte.com/dsl/partisp.html.) About half of GTE's central offices are equipped for ADSL, with the company hoping to equip the rest this year, Charbonneau said. GTE says users must be within 3 wire miles of a DSL-equipped office for the service to operate effectively. (To see whether ADSL is available in your area, call a GTE business office or check www.gte.com.)

One of GTE's first customers for the ADSL service is Cybear, a Boca Raton company that provides Internet services to doctors and medical facilities. Jerry Cazzell, the company's spokesman in its Tampa office, says ADSL has lowered its costs and increased security, a key element for confidential medical records. Previously, the company had used regular or high-speed phone connections.

"It cuts the cost of installation down by several thousand dollars," Cazzell said, because Cybear didn't have to wire buildings or install new phone lines. He also prefers ADSL's flat fee compared with high-speed ISDN phone line service, which costs $120 a month plus a per-minute charge.

The only problem Cybear (www.cybear.com) has with ADSL, Cazzell said, is availability. The company serves about 70,000 doctors and thousands of clinics nationwide, but only a tiny percentage are in areas that have ADSL.

"Because this is a new product, you're seeing the more sophisticated users jumping on it," Charbonneau of GTE said. "Because price points are not as competitive with alternative products (such as cable modems), we're not getting the turnout we expected."

GTE is testing an ADSL device for residential use. No decisions have been made on whether prices for residential users will differ from business rates, Charbonneau said.

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