Appendix C: Connecting to the Internet
There are many different ways to connect to the Internet. Agencies can generally purchase several different kinds of on-ramps to the
based on their particular need. Depending on the kind of connection to the Internet, access to information may be fast or slow.
The key to Internet speed is bandwidth. Bandwidth refers
to the amount of data transferred within a specified time. Greater
bandwidth increases the speed of data transfer. A general overview
of the various types of Internet connections is listed below, starting
with the slowest (smallest bandwidth) and moving up to the faster
(greater bandwidth) technologies. Cost and service quality can vary
widely. Use of a competitive bid process, with an appropriate Request
for Proposal (RFP), can better enable agencies to obtain needed
service while controlling cost. In other words, the agency should
not commit to service from a provider based on advertisements.
Acronyms and abbreviations referenced in this appendix are defined in the glossary. A reference table is provided at the end of this appendix for quick comparison of the various Internet connection options discussed below.
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) provide the portals, or access, that allow computer users to connect to the Internet. There are numerous ways for education agencies to connect with an ISP. Before selecting an ISP, the agency should determine its needs for bandwidth, speed, and services.
Internet Service Providers
The agency should secure the services of an ISP through the RFP process. Using the RFP process, the ISP should be required to identify the available connection speed and the reliability of the system, sometimes measured by the amount of time the ISP's services were down during the previous 6 months. Although most ISPs will advertise a high connection speed, the agency should determine whether the full bandwidth is available at all times by requesting an assessment of the provider's typical bandwidth and connection speed at different times of the day and on different days of the week. The chief technology officer or technology director should review any ISP proposal. Following are descriptions of the various Internet connections available.
Dial-up services connect to the Internet using modems over a traditional telephone line. The vast majority of Internet users connect to the Internet from home via dial-up service. The maximum connection speed is 56 kilobits per second (Kbps), which is slow when supporting bandwidth-intensive services, such as video conferencing or streaming video. Dial-up service is typically sufficient for using web and e-mail applications. It is not recommended for multiple users, such as a number of students, who need to access the Internet at the same time. Dial-up service is available almost everywhere in the United States and is the least expensive way of connecting to the Internet/World Wide Web.
Developed and marketed through the 1980s and early 1990s, the Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) was the telephone company's first attempt at providing faster online services. As with dial-up service, ISDN is generally insufficient for serving a large number of users with the same connection. The service provides up to 128 Kbps, approximately twice the speed of dial-up. ISDN tends to be much more expensive than dial-up, costing generally $100 to $300 per month. For the most part, DSL technology has replaced ISDN; however, in some areas where DSL is not available, ISDN may be the best option. If available, most of the other services mentioned in this appendix provide greater capacity at lower cost than ISDN.
Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) technologies have largely replaced ISDN service as the product telephone companies want consumers to use when connecting to the Internet. Like dial-up service, DSL connects to the Internet over ordinary copper telephone lines, but is faster-at rates of 1.5 to 6.1 megabits per second (Mbps)-enabling continuous transmission of video and audio. DSL service is primarily marketed to home and small business users, but the service is adequate to meet the needs of education agencies. While it does not have the same quality of service in terms of speed or support that dedicated fiber optic lines typically provide, DSL is much more affordable. DSL is available in much of the United States, particularly in urban areas. Commercial DSL service generally runs from $100 to $250 per month, but can run significantly higher.
DSL service quality can vary from area to area and from service provider to service provider. Additionally, the speed of access to the Internet depends on the distance between the user and the DSL relay station.
Cable modems have become, in recent years, the most popular broadband technology for home computer users. The cable modem uses the same coaxial cable that carries cable TV signals for high-speed data transmission. While not as robust as fiber optic connections, cable modems can provide similar quality service at a fraction of the cost. The quality of a cable modem connection, however, is dependent on the overall quality of the cable modem provider's network, and the more people accessing the provider's network at the same time, the slower each individual's connection to the Internet will be. Speed ranges from under 1 to 8 Mbps; costs are generally $100 to $250 per month for commercial users.
Because of the historically strong connection between education and the cable television community, many schools are using cable modems. When contracting to provide cable service to a city or county, the cable company typically makes the commitment to provide one cable connection and one modem to each school within the service area of the cable company. There are cases, however, in which cable companies have provided additional services.
Higher Bandwidth Connections (including fiber optics)
Many businesses and schools today connect to the Internet through larger cables, typically referred to as T1 (copper wire), T3 (coaxial cable or fiber optic cable), or OC3c (fiber optic) connections. These services are widely available, are highly flexible, and provide high quality, fast broadband service. Costs are comparatively high and vary widely from area to area. In urban areas, T1 connections (providing 1.5 Mbps) are generally available for approximately $200 to $500 per month. In rural areas, the same connection usually costs much more. Larger T3 and OC3c connections, which provide 45 Mbps and 155 Mbps, respectively, generally cost several thousands of dollars per month in urban areas and tens of thousands of dollars per month in rural areas. Depending on the bandwidth needs of the school or district, it may be more sensible to utilize a less expensive connection.
For some agencies, a more feasible option in the T-carrier system may be a "fractional" T1 line, which utilizes a portion of the T1. Fractional T1 lines are available to meet almost any speed requirement for a reduced price. This option makes sense for those agencies that may not need a full T1 line today, but might need increased bandwidth in the future. In addition, upgrading fractional T1 to use more of the T1 line can usually be done without purchasing new hardware.
Larger organizations, such as state government agencies or large school districts, may require the faster OC3c connection. These high-speed connections are not always available and, as mentioned, can cost tens of thousands of dollars per month. Where these networks exist, however, states (or counties or large districts) may be able to divide the bandwidth, according to the needs of smaller districts or schools. By doing this, the cost of connecting to the Internet could be reduced for smaller agencies or schools. Districts or schools should, when considering which kind of connectivity to purchase, determine if there is a preexisting network to which they can connect.
Some larger agencies have considered buying space on a satellite to
upload and download files. While the cost of transmitting information
over wires would be removed, satellite reliability is debatable. Weather
(such as rain) or even sunspots can affect satellite transmission.
Additional information on satellite transmission can be found at
Traditionally, Internet access over cellular telephone networks has been slow and somewhat unreliable. Wireless technology, however, is coming of age, and new, significantly faster Internet connection services are offered throughout the United States. While these "third generation wireless" services (generally referred to as 3G services) are not necessarily suitable for building use, they may suit the needs of individuals within the agency as they maintain contact with each other during the workday. Already, cellular phones are replacing "walkie-talkies" in many secondary schools. It is still too soon to tell how much these services will cost, but they will probably be metered, with cost depending upon the amount of usage.
Fixed wireless refers to the operation of wireless devices in a fixed location. Unlike mobile wireless devices, which are battery powered, fixed wireless devices are electrically powered. The basic idea behind fixed wireless is that the traditional wired connection (e.g., fiber optic, telephone line, or cable TV line) is replaced by a high-speed wireless connection. Depending on the technology, bad weather (such as rain) can significantly interfere with fixed wireless services. This service is usually most attractive in communities where traditional wired connections are not available; however, the technology is also suitable for urban areas. Fixed wireless speed varies considerably, from under 1 Mbps to upwards of 15 Mbps. Cost also varies widely.
Internet Connections-Quick Reference
| Service type
| <56 Kbps
- Widely available; connection is made through the telephone
- Useful when only one computer is connected to the Internet
- Only one computer at a time can use the connection
- Comparatively slower speed makes using graphics (pictures)
| 64-128 Kbps
- Faster than dial-up
- Graphics can be transmitted more easily than with dial-up
- Support by service connections providers is decreasing
- Cost can be high
| 256 Kbps-
- More useful when a limited number of computers are connected
to the Internet
- Limited by physical distance from the service provider
- Limited number of computers can connect before speed
is degraded (graphics will load very slowly)
| Cable Modem
| 18 Mbps
| Connectivity to more than one computer can
be developed from one cable connection
- Access to cable systems is usually determined by agreements
between vendors and city/county government
- The more connections on the cable, the slower the system
- Individual e-mail accounts are usually expensive
| Higher Bandwidth Connections
| 1.5?155+ Mbps
- Allows for multiple connections
- Speed of connectivity only limited by the number of users
on the Internet
- Connection is complex
| 350 Kbps +
| Available in rural areas where other options
may not be available
- Upload speed may be slow
- Usually requires additional phone line to communicate
with the service provider
| Cellular Wireless
| <28 Kbps (currently) Approx. 200 Kbps
| Useful for individual connectivity only
| Not an option for schools or classrooms
| Fixed Wireless
| 1?15 Mbps
| Useful in areas where there are no wires
- Very limited availability
- Bad weather can interfere with data transmission
| bps = bits per second
Kbps = kilobits per second (1 Kbps = 1,000 bps)
Mbps = megabits per second (1 Mbps = 1,000 Kbps = 1,000,000
Gbps = gigabits per second (1 Gbps = 1,000 Mbps = 1,000,000
Kbps = 1,000,000,000 bps)