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What is the difference between DSL providers?

Find out how to choose from among the many DSL providers.

DSL providers are similar in that they all bring high speed Internet to homes and businesses. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
DSL providers are similar in that they all bring high speed Internet to homes and businesses.

A digital subscriber line, or DSL connection, is one of the most cost-effective ways to get high-speed Internet access at home. A DSL connection uses your existing phone line to connect your computer with everything the Internet has to offer. But unlike a traditional dial-up connection, DSL doesn't monopolize your phone -- you can still make and receive calls while your computer is online. DSL is also significantly faster than dial-up modem connections.

In short, upgrading to a DSL connection from dial-up is an easy decision to make.

Choosing a DSL Provider

But you still have to choose a DSL provider, which can be a tougher choice. What should you look for in a service provider? Is there a difference between DSL providers?

Whichever service provider you choose, there will be basic similarities because all DSL service relies on the telephone company's infrastructure. The speed of the DSL connection will always depend on how far you are from your local phone company's nearest central office (CO). And if you're more than three miles from the CO, or if the phone company has installed certain pieces of hardware called loading coils and bridge taps, you probably can't get DSL at all. You can find out what people in your area have reported about the availability of DSL and the local phone company's CO on Dslreports.com.

DSL Provider Checklist

Even though all DSL connections use the same basic technology, there are still important differences between service providers. The most obvious difference is whether or not you are required to have active telephone service to get DSL. Many service providers do require that you have an active phone line -- and in fact, many people get their DSL service from their local phone company. But if you're one of the growing number of people who rely on a cell phone and chooses not to have a separate land line at home, you may still be able to get "naked" DSL.

Naked DSL (or "dry loop" DSL) is a term for DSL service without local phone service. Companies that offer Internet without phone service include Covad, Qwest, Speakeasy, Verizon and AT&T. If you don't need a local land line, dry loop DSL has the advantage of exempting you from the many fees and taxes that are attached to local phone service.

Another difference you can consider when choosing between service providers is the level of service and features attached to your subscription. For example, any DSL connection will require a special modem from your service provider. Some providers, however, charge you for the modem, while others give it to you for free when you commit to a long-term service agreement. Similarly, you can look at the availability of tech support, the e-mail features, and the Web-hosting features if you're so inclined. There are also some DSL providers, like Covad and Speakeasy, that specialize in home office and small business connections.

Finding Providers in Your Area

Your local telephone service provider or one of their competitors is a good place to start looking for DSL service. Internet search engines, the Yellow Pages or Web sites like DSL Broker are also a good place to look for DSL providers and the lowest prices on DSL service in your area.

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