Technicity Times
    Issue 1 • November 2002

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Ask Dr. Technicity

Q: We're considering getting high speed Internet access (DSL or cable) for our office but one of the staff remains skeptical and resistant. Aside from the speed, what are the real advantages of DSL? What are the potential issues that we should be concerned about?
    - Need for Speed

A: Dear Need for Speed,

High speed Internet access, also commonly referred to as broadband, is great and I personally can't live without it. Then again, Dr. T is an unusually dedicated hard-core user (read: nerd with no life.) Before you start contemplating DSL or cable, one of the threshold questions you should be asking yourself is whether or not the Internet is an important part of your organization's work. For example, is e-mail an important communications tool? Does staff regularly go to Web sites for information? On an ordinary day, how often do you find staff needing to connect to the Internet? If any of these questions come back with a resounding "hell yeah," read on. If you just get blank stares, stick with what you already have.

So what's on Dr. T's list of reasons for getting broadband?

  • It frees up resources. Ever get complaints that your phone/fax number always has a busy signal? Cable is run separately from your telephone equipment and does not require a phone line. And while DSL requires a phone line, you can make calls or fax at the same time.
  • It enables shared access. With some relatively affordable equipment you can share DSL and cable across your entire office so that everyone can be on the Internet at the same time.
  • It's %$#^* fast. Broadband is 5-10 times faster than your average dial-up modem.
  • It's always on. You no longer have the excuse to run to the bathroom or take walks while you wait for your computer to connect to the Internet.
  • You can host your own Internet services. You can set up a server at your location to host your own Web site, send, receive and relay mail, share files, etc. This enables your organization to do things over the Internet that was previously impossible or a big hassle. An example is giving remote access to office files for staff working away from the office.

With the benefits of broadband also come new responsibilities so as to avoid potential obstacles and issues.

  • Security. You have to plan for security issues that may occur over your Internet connection now that it is always on. Hackers, viruses, handling of sensitive information and unintentional staff negligence. Put together a solid security policy that can then serve as the foundation for planning what security decisions you make.
  • Productivity. An always-on connection to the Internet may become a potential distraction if people are using it too much for personal enjoyment. Communicate the organization's acceptance level clearly to everyone so that the staff doing the work are not slowed down by people downloading MP3 music files.
  • Outages: This is becoming less and less of an issue today as the broadband technology has had time to mature. But outages do happen and it may be minutes or days.
  • Cost: Cost for high speed Internet access varies greatly based on your provider and which plan you choose. But also factor in associated but hidden costs for hardware and software such as firewalls and networking equipment.
  • Broadband Provider's Policies: Be sure to review your broadband provider's usage policies for restrictions before signing on the dotted line. Some do not officially allow you to share the connection among multiple users. Others do not allow you to run your own servers to host Internet services.
  • Availability: Obviously all of this is a moot point if high speed Internet access is not available in your area. Check your local cable company, phone company and Web sites such as www.dslreports.com for more information.

Good luck!

Ask Dr. Technicity is written by Henry Lee, a technology consultant for nonprofits and government. DrT@technicitytimes.com

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