A new option makes DSL and cable look like chopped liver

Heather Gehlert: Think DSL and cable have the market sewn up? Think again.
A new option in Internet service -- fiber-optic broadband -- is making cable look about as antiquated as dial-up. Called FiOS, the service is much faster and, perhaps more important, offers consumers more choice in a not-so-competitive marketplace.

According to an article in the February 2007 issue of Consumer Reports Magazine, fiber-optic broadband outperforms cable, DSL, satellite broadband and dial-up in speed, reliability and tech support. But the most notable difference is in speed.

For example, a 5-megabyte MP3 file takes about 33 seconds to download using low-cost DSL. That same file takes 10 seconds to download with cable and only 1 second with fiber. A 50-megabyte file containing digital photos takes 5.5 minutes with DSL, 1.7 minutes with cable and 10 seconds with fiber.

The larger the file, the bigger the difference. A 5-gigabyte high-definition movie takes 9 hours to download with low-cost DSL, 2.8 hours with cable and only 17 minutes with fiber.

Most users probably don't need that kind of speed right now, but it's something to consider if you often download large video or sound files. And fast Internet will likely only increase in demand as the Web houses more downloadable files.

The fiber service is offered only by Verizon and is pricier than its competitors. However, the very threat of competition to cable and phone companies could help drive down costs. Already, cable has lowered the price of its broadband in markets where Verizon has moved in.

It's probably too soon to tell exactly what kind of effect fiber will have. Right now, it's only available in approximately 6 million homes in the United States.

More choice in broadband will probably take years before becoming available to the masses. Besides fiber, Consumer Reports says future possibilities include "Internet service over power lines and independent wireless systems that can beam the signal across cities."

To find out what services and providers are in your area, check out
Heather Gehlert is a managing editor at AlterNet.
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