Buying DSL Service from an ISP

Most Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) service is sold as part of an Internet access package, so your Internet service provider will be your interface to getting a DSL connection to the Internet. To help decide which DSL service to buy, you want to consider what IP (Internet Protocol) networking services are included in the agreement.

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What you can and can't do with your DSL Internet connection is defined in large part by the particular configuration of services offered by the ISP.

The United States has thousands of ISPs, and a wide variety of them offer DSL service. As a result, the packaging and pricing of DSL service is all over the map — literally and figuratively.

Three types of ISPs offer DSL-based Internet access service:

  • Independent ISPs. These ISPs buy their DSL circuits from Competitive Local Exchange Carriers (CLECs) or Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers (ILECs) and provide the bulk of DSL service offerings. In large metropolitan markets, independent ISPs typically buy DSL service from multiple DSL circuit providers. For example, an ISP serving northern California may offer DSL service from Pacific Bell, NorthPoint, and Covad Communications.

  • ILEC ISPs. These ILEC-owned ISPs provide an Internet access package added to the ILEC's DSL offerings. ILEC ISPs have names such as PacBell.net, BellAtlantic.net, and USWEST.net. They compete with independent ISPs but offer only the ILEC's DSL service.

  • ISPs acting as CLECs. These ISPs become CLECs by filing tariffs with the state regulatory agency, installing Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplexes (DSLAMs) in central offices (COs), and using the ILECs' local loops in a similar way that larger CLECs do. A pioneer of this approach is Harvard Net, which is located in the Boston area

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Given the complexity of TCP/IP networking combined with DSL service issues, most ISPs could do a better job of creating user-friendly packaging of DSL-based Internet access services. ISP Web sites are the main source of initial customer information, yet many of these sites lack helpful information for customers trying to define their needs. In many cases, you have to call the ISP for basic service information. And even when you call, you may get a salesperson ill-prepared to answer your questions. One site to check out is DSL Reports, which provides DSL customer reviews of ISPs offering DSL service.

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