Life in Canada is speeding up - at least where Internet access is concerned. In the past 12 months, high-speed access to the Internet and the World Wide Web has gone from being a hopeful promise to a reality in many parts of the country.
A growing number of Canadians can now choose between two very different ways of achieving high-speed access: asynchronous digital subscriber line (ADSL) systems from Canada's major telephone companies or cable modem service from cable television companies.
Both are being offered at similar prices - typically between $55 and $70 a month - and provide access speeds that are 20 to 100 times better than you could achieve with a standard computer modem.
ADSL service is being promoted aggressively as an option for users of the Sympatico Internet access service offered by most of the country's largest telephone companies. It claims speeds of 2.2 Megabits per second, or about 90 times the speed of a standard 28.8 kbps computer modem, for data coming into the computer and about half that speed, around one Mbit per second, for data being sent out.
The service was initially offered in Saskatchewan and has more recently been expanded as the Sympatico High Speed Edition serviceto include Ontario and Quebec.
Until Jan. 31, 1998, the service is being offered to residents of the Ottawa, Hull or Quebec City areas for $64.95 a month, based on a one-year subscription, and has a basic installation fee of $80.
The fee includes the price of renting an ADSL modem, but not the cost of the Ethernet network card you will need to use it. It also includes unlimited Internet access when using the ADSL modem, as well as five hours a month of dial-up Internet access while away from home.
ADSL proponents claim it is a better solution than a cable modem service, because it is faster and allows you to make phone calls and receive faxes while connected to the Internet using the same phone line.
Cable television companies, however, are responding aggressively to the ADSL challenge with expanded availability of their Wave cable Internet access service at prices up to $10 a month cheaper than ADSL.
But cable-based Internet access does not allow you to make standard phone calls or faxes over the same line.
That, however, is also the strength of the Wave service; it is completely independent of whatever is happening with your phone line. It is also always "on", so users do not need to worry about having to log in periodically to check their electronic mail. It just arrives in their in box, whenever it is received by the Wave electonic mail service. Wave can also be used to check other standard Internet electronic mail accounts.
For some consumers, the issue of choosing between these two high-speed options may not arise. As both struggle to expand their national coverage, it may well be that only one will be available in your area, for the next year at least.
Over the longer term, both should offer service in all major Canadian cities - and then the real competition for high-speed Internet service market share will really hit. And that wouldn't be a bad thing for consumers.