A cable television system typically has 60 or more channels, and most of them are used for programming services like CNN, ESPN and HBO. These channels also can be used to offer high-speed Internet access service. Using the cable television fiber-optic wire as a backbone, the cable company can place a box in the home that will allow for high-speed downloads and not so bad uploads. The only catch is that all the neighbors share the line. If the neighborhood has several people using cable modems, a significant loss in download and upload times will be noticed. Cable modems can be purchased through the local cable company.
Many cable companies and Internet service providers argue that cable modems are as much as 100 times faster than a dial up Internet connection, running at an ultra-fast speed of 5 million bits per second (mbps). In theory, it is possible. But a more realistic speed is 1 mbps, or about 20 times faster than a typical 56,000-bits-per-second (kbps) dial-up connection. Still, that's quite a leap in performance. Web pages that can take minutes to paint with a dial-up connection will pop up instantly with a cable modem.
Cable modem subscribers are typically charged for service on their cable bill, rather than paying the Internet provider directly. But the cable company and ISP have distinct responsibilities.
The local cable company is responsible for installing the cable modem and managing the quality of the service over the local cable network. At the cable company's main network office—commonly called the "headend"—customers are connected to the cable ISP's national backbone. It, in turn, is plugged into the Internet. The Internet provider actually provides the Internet connectivity, while the cable company will provide basic technical support. Customers may also be directed to the Internet provider when there are problems.
Cable modem service typically covers the cable modem rental fee; unlimited Internet access; and Internet application software, such as a Web browser and e-mail applications. Cable modem service installation fees cover cable wiring, an Ethernet card for the computer, and software configuration.
Cable modem service availability is still relatively limited. That's because cable companies must first upgrade their networks by installing fiber-optic lines and two-way data-transmission capabilities—a time-consuming, expensive undertaking.
Check with the local cable company for availability in a particular area or check appropriate web sites.