Q: What’s better/faster: cable Internet or DSL?

Tech Q & A
– Submitted by many

A: This is one of the most common questions I get. The answer is not so simple. When asking if a certain service is “better”, some people are asking if one is faster than the other. Others are asking about reliability. Others want to know about price. All three questions may have different answers depending on the person asking it.

To start, understand that cable Internet and DSL Internet are virtually the same service. They both provide “always-on”, high-speed Internet service to your home or business. In fact, the technologies are so similar, that much of the equipment that cable and DSL providers use behind the scenes is the same. The main difference is that one service is delivered by the cable company lines, the other delivered by the phone company lines. To the user, once the service gets to their computer, it is basically the same – fast Internet.

Which type of service is more reliable? This really depends on your neighborhood. I know clients that rarely have any problems with their cable Internet or DSL service. I know other clients that cancelled their service with either cable or DSL because they had too many problems. In other instances, as the respective companies upgraded their infrastructures in various areas, service quality has improved. The only way to really know if a certain service is reliable in your area is to ask your neighbors. What service do they have, how long have they had it, and how often do they have problems?

So which service is faster? This depends when and where you ask it. As of the writing of the article, in my area Charter Communications offers cable Internet service up to 10 Mbps. AT&T offers DSL up to 6 Mbps. So at this time, the fastest Internet service available in my area is cable. However, that hasn’t always been the case and it may not be the case in all areas. In the future, it is likely that DSL providers will introduce faster services, probably leapfrogging cable at some point. Then cable providers will probably offer faster service again and so on.

The more important question is not who has the fastest Internet, but who has the best value for your money. Does it really matter if cable provides 10 Mbps service if you are only interested in about 1 Mbps service? Also, what conditions are attached to any advertised rates? Often, advertised rates are only 3 or 6 month promotions. Other times, to qualify for advertised rates, customers must also subscribe to other services. Another consideration is independent DSL providers. There are many companies that offer DSL service independent of the local phone company. Their rates may be better and/or they may offer better customer service. The bottom line is to thoroughly check all the details of any rate plans to make sure that you are actually getting the speed you want at the rate you want. Also, since companies change their rate plans all the time, periodically check to see if you qualify for faster or cheaper service. Companies generally don’t change your plan unless you ask them to – even if they are offering cheaper or faster services.

After all this being said, keep in mind what I first stated: both services are virtually the same once they get to your computer. As long as you are getting reliable service at price and speed that is satisfactory to you, then it really doesn’t matter much whether the service is coming over a cable line or phone line.

E-mail me your technology questions and have them answered in a future issue!