Get On the Interent without Cable, DSL or a Landline

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Bob writes, I am about fed up with phone companies (land lines) the taxes are longer, and more than the service. I want to go to cellular, thinking it is less expensive, but I use a dial up to get to the Internet, and having cable would defeat the cost savings of going to cellular. What do other people do to cut the land line and still get on the Internet?

This is an interesting problem with no clear solution at the moment. Cutting the cord from either the phone company or cable company for Internet access is kind of like removing yourself from the power grid. It can be done, but you potentially give up convenience and reliability. In some cases you end up spending more going it alone than you would to just stick with conventional providers. The flip side is, you potentially gain more mobility by not tying yourself to a connection in your house. You do have a few options.

Cellular Data Plans

If you really want to abandon cable and DSL providers, having the right cell phone provider and data plan can make a difference. Since you were previously on dial-up, speed is not an apparent consideration in your access needs, so spending the $60-80 per month for EVDO or Cingular's BroadbandConnect likely won't make sense. All the major providers, including Verizon, Cingular and T-Mobile offer a data add-on for $20-40 depending on various options. For your situation, T-Mobile may be the best offering, because you could opt for the flexibility of both their EDGE network via the phone and the T-Mobile Hotspot access for a combined $29.99. Of course the Hotspot plan is only useful if you have either a laptop or a phone like T-Mobiles MDA.

If you only want a replacement for dial-up, the unlimited data plan that integrates a phone is viable but potentially frustrating. I'm currently paying $20/month for unlimited data in my Cingular plan, which gets me a connection at approximately 60 kbps when I'm in a pinch. I personally couldn't stand having that connection as my only connection, because it's too slow, but if you're used to dial-up it might seem faster. I also find my phone dropping the connection if I'm online for extended periods of time (longer than 15 minutes in some cases). Another downside is you are tying up your telephone while you are online (just like dial-up). The upside is you can get online almost anywhere without being restricted to hours of operation of a business.

Pros:

  • Internet access anywhere
  • Potential access at Hotspots
  • Cheaper than combined landline/dial-up pricing

Cons:

  • Being online ties up your phone
  • Dropped connection with prolonged usage
  • Slow upload speeds for non-EVDO connections
  • Low signal strength translates to slower access speed
  • Highspeed connections cost more than Cable or DSL


Other People's Bandwidth

Depending on where you live, you could drop your existing bandwidth for what I call other people's bandwidth. Coffee shops, laundromats, libraries and other public places are using free wireless access as a draw for customers. While there is no direct cost for the connection, you give up a few things in the process. The connection is typically only available while a business is open. Many businesses (rightfully) won't put up with loiterers who aren't paying for anything. I tried this option for about a month once and found it to be deceptively more expensive than actually buying your own connection. Because you're in someone's place of business, you end up spending more money on their products than you would by simply investing in your own connection over the course of a month.

Pros:

  • No cost for access
  • Faster than dial-up
  • Lower power bill at home

Cons:

  • Limited availability
  • Paying for seat with drinks

I personally couldn't rely on either of these options because I depend on a reliable fast Internet connection for my business, however, for casual use, either of these options could get you by. I would not recommend one of the metered plans from a cellular provider, because if you ever go over your allotted bandwidth, you'll be paying the data equivalent of those outrageous cellular overage fees. Always spend the few extra dollars for the unlimited data plan for your phone.