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@Home NetworkMaking Yourself @Home in Cyberspace

by Jim Bray

Why is high speed cable Internet service like the musical "Oliver!"?

It's an "artful dodge" for Web surfers frustrated by the dialup experience - and lets you "consider yourself @Home" on the World Wide Web.Unfortunately, quickly "reviewing the situation" might make you conclude that you've got to "pick a pocket or two" to pay for cable's premium service.

Don't let that scare you off, though; if you're really going to use the Internet over the long haul, @Home is probably worth the $39.95 or so per month, plus tax, price. For that, you get unlimited high speed access to the Internet - 24 hours a day, with no dialup process through which to wait. You also get three e-mail addresses, five Mb of space with which to set up your own Web presence, and news and chat groups capability.

My @Home test service came from Shaw Cable, but it's also available from other cable operators depending upon your location. Installation, usually priced at $99US or so (but which goes on sale sometimes), saw two people show up at my door - a "Cable Guy" and a "Computer Person."

The "Cable Guy" tests your signal to ensure it's up to snuff, then installs a splitter and runs a conventional cable to your PC. While the "Cable Guy" is getting strung out, the "Computer Person" sticks an Ethernet network card into your computer and connects it to a cable modem.

Once the cable's hooked in, the software gets installed and the system configured for your account. The process took about 45 minutes and the system has worked very well for the most part.

Not that there haven't been some problems; nothing's perfect. I've heard of people complaining about connection conundrums, slow downloads, and a general lack of support - legitimate concerns, all. I experienced the first two issues - but to be fair, it didn't happen as often as it has with various dialup accounts I've used and was probably due as much to "Net congestion" as anything.

As for customer service, I had no reason to call them, so can't comment about that.

On the whole, I've found the @Home experience very pleasurable. I figured I'd like the speed, and I do - but it's the constant, instant access to the Web that I really love. It's great: the Internet is always there, a virtual extension of your computer, as if the entire World Wide Web were a gigantic, interactive CD-ROM.

The speed is usually very good. @Home claims it rockets along at up to 100 times faster than a conventional modem, though that may be somewhat hyperbolic for real world purposes. Still, it's fast enough that web pages usually load far more quickly than with a 56K modem - and file downloads are far less of an ordeal as well.

I retrieved the 25 Megabyte "Star Wars, Episode 1" trailer, which I would never have bothered with using a modem, and was pleased to see it zip onto my hard drive in about ten minutes. Later, however, the system was so bogged down that I ended up killing another try at downloading it after a few hundred K. I can't blame @Home, though; it was more likely because everyone on Earth was grabbing a copy of that marvelous movie preview.

For added value, @Home offers a nice selection of local content. Most of it is easily accessible on the Web anyway, however, but it's handy to have it all gathered into one central location.

Depending upon where you are, local info can include links to local radio and TV stations, area newspapers and magazines, events, movie, music, restaurant and theatre listings, and various government services.

You can also surf local info for each @Home service area. My family used that to help us plan our vacation trip.

All this hometown stuff (and non location-specific content) is quite extensive, and you may use it often. I don't think it's enough reason to get the @Home service, though.

Fortunately, there are plenty of other reasons...

I use the Internet a lot, and @Home has really spoiled me. The speed is great, but it's even better being able to hit the Web site of any company or product I need to research faster than my modem can even connect - and not having to worry about using up my allotted hours and running up extra charges.

It all adds up to a delicious cyberfeast that, in keeping with the "Oliver!" twist on this piece, will keep you saying "Please sir, may I have some more?"


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January 31, 2006