High-Speed Internet Service Options at Your Residence
For students living in University Housing, the University provides high-speed Internet access in residence halls via ResComp, and in Northwood Apartments via the Northwood DSL Network Service.
Students, staff, and faculty members who live in group houses or in private residences can obtain high-speed Internet access through any of a number of commercially available Internet service providers. These high-speed Internet services, often called "broadband," have some common features:
- they are "always on", meaning you don't have to dial in each time you want to connect;
- they don't interfere with your use of the telephone (or cable TV); and
- they are significantly faster than dial-up modems, at least in the downstream direction (from the network to your computer).
There are three common sources of broadband for residential network access in our area: DSL, cable modem, and satellite Internet. Other technologies may be on the horizon but are not commonly available yet.
DSL (Digital Subscriber Line)
- DSL services work through a telephone line.
- There are many "flavors" of DSL, but the most common form available commercially is ADSL (Asymmetric DSL), in which the download speeds are several times faster than the upload speeds.
- For DSL to perform properly, your residence must be within 18,000 cable feet from the telephone company's central office, and the closer you are to the central office, the better.
- Some providers offer extended DSL service over ISDN lines, which can extend the distance at which DSL is available, but this is not usually a practical solution.
- Most DSL providers require you to have a land line for telephone service, usually from the incumbent local exchange carrier (SBC or Verizon). (One provider, Speakeasy.net, now offers DSL service that does not require a land line to the residence; other providers may follow Speakeasy's lead.)
- Cable modem services are provided by the company that has the cable TV franchise for your area; most municipalities only grant a cable franchise to one provider. In most of the Ann Arbor area, that's Comcast. In some other nearby areas including Whitmore Lake, it's Charter Communications.
- Cable modems are generally available over a wider area than DSL. As long as the cable plant has been upgraded to digital in your specific area, your cable TV company probably offers cable Internet.
- If an area has a large number of cable modem subscribers, download speeds may be slower during peak times because all subscribers on the same network node (generally, a neighborhood) share the same bandwidth "pipeline."
- It is, however, within the control of the cable modem provider to increase the available bandwidth if they feel it is necessary to fix this problem.
- Internet access via satellite is sometimes available in rural areas that are not covered by either DSL or cable modem services. Where cable modem or DSL is available, satellite is usually not the most cost-effective choice.
- There must be a completely clear view to the southern sky from your residence in order for satellite Internet service to work.
- "Fair access policies" may be used to limit connection speeds at certain times or with certain bandwidth-intensive applications.
- There may be significant latency (signal delay) especially in the upstream direction (from your computer to the Internet), so satellite Internet service is generally not useful for applications or services that rely on relatively quick responses upstream.
- Access to VPNs is extremely difficult over satellite, as is online gaming.
- Installation is done by private contractors/resellers; installation and activation charges above what is shown on the providers' website may be charged by reseller or installer.
While we cannot actually recommend certain providers over others, we can offer some general considerations to help you make your own comparisons.
- Several websites offer comparisons among broadband providers. Broadband Reports (www.broadbandreports.com) relies on users' anacdotal comments, and has a 6-month summary (follow the links on the left side of the page to Reviews, then Verdicts) that is quite useful. www.buytelco.com is a "middleman" through which you buy broadband service. A Google search for "broadband ISPs Michigan" (or more local area) may help you find a provider.
- One of the most useful ways to find a broadband provider is just to ask around. Find out what your colleagues or friends use, how they like the service, whether there are any common problems or "gotchas" with the service, etc.
- It is not always easy to compare prices for the various broadband services, because they all frequently run promotions, and one such service offering a promotion will often cause others to follow suit.
- A general word of caution: be sure to read the fine print on a provider's website before ordering a broadband service.
- Advertised monthly rates are often limited-duration, promotional rates for new service, and after the initial promotion period, which may range from 2 to 12 months, the monthly cost may increase drastically -- as much as 60-85% in some cases.
- Some promotional rates require ordering online.
- Some promotions require 1-year commitments with $200-300 fees for early termination.
- Promotions are not always available in all areas where the service itself is offered.
- When broadband providers compare their download speeds to other providers' speeds, make sure they are making fair, "apples-to-apples" comparisons.
- Some broadband providers may require you to use their "home networking" services if you plan to attach more than one computer. Prices for home networking products are usually higher, as are static IP addresses, if available.
Since broadband providers change their offerings frequently to stay competitive, it's best to check the individual service providers' websites for current offerings. This is not meant to be a definitive list of all broadband ISPs that serve the greater Ann Arbor area, just some of the more common ones. Also, since providers' websites change frequently, only the home pages are listed. Once there, just search for "Residential Services," "High-Speed Internet for Home" or similar links.