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New technology unaffordable for most residents

So you want a rainbow of information streaming into your home, eh?

Since no one expects fiber optic lines to run to most homes anytime soon, that leaves two possible responses here: fat chance or pay up.If you live in Davis County and you're willing to fork over lots of dough, you may be able to get online with a new technology US WEST Communications is rolling out.

In August, the telephone company began wiring Davis County schools with HDSL - high data digital subscriber line - connections. It's the next best thing, the phone company says, for speedy access to the Internet.

HDSL is one of a variety of digital subscriber line modem technologies collectively referred to as xDSL. You can replace the "x" with A (asymmetric), with S (single-line), or with V (very high) data rate.

What makes xDSL technology so attractive to phone companies like US WEST is it gives them a cheaper, fast way to provide customers with speedy connections over the existing copper wire lines that run to homes and most businesses.

An HDSL connection can transmit data at the rate of 704 kilobits per second - nearly 13 times faster than the 56K modems now being pushed at consumers in retail stores.

HDSL is not only fast, it allows data transfers and voice conversations to go on simultaneously, says Joe Glynn, director of product marketing for MegaBit Services, a division of US WEST Communications.

Since US WEST is providing the service to schools in Davis County, Glynn said it's also available to residents of five cities: Layton, Kaysville, Clearfield, Farmington and Bountiful.

The cost is $125 a month, which includes the installation of a special digital modem near a subscriber's home or office.

What about other Utahns? Here's where "fat chance" comes in.

US WEST doesn't have a timetable for rolling out HDSL technology elsewhere. So your best bet is still an ISDN or Integrated Services Digital Network connection.

An ISDN line handles data at speeds up to 128 kilobits per second. It can carry three activities simultaneously - you can fax, talk and surf the Net all at once over the line.

You'll pay $34 to $64 for an ISDN line, depending on the features you select. There's also a setup charge that ranges from $67 to $110.

While ISDN is cheaper than the new HDSL technology, you still have to do a whole lot of Internet surfing to justify the expense. The price US WEST charges for ISDN connections is a sore point with local Internet Service Providers, who say residents of other states get much better deals.

US WEST won't disclose how many Utahns have ISDN connections. But here's a good clue: In a recent Deseret News survey, 2 percent of respondents said they have ISDN lines.

Some of those people may work for the state, which has been trying to stimulate use of ISDN lines for years.

Last year it launched a partnership with US WEST to get ISDN lines to employees' homes, particularly those who are willing and able to telecommute. Back then, state officials said they hoped as many as 1,500 people would sign up for the program.

Ha!

As of last week about 146 state employees had the high speed digital connections, and another 12 were waiting to get hooked up.

"A lot of it has to do with price and availability," said Leon Miller, information technology services director. Asked whether the state would be interested in adopting HDSL technology, Miller is understandably cautious.

"It's taken a long, long time to get ISDN," he said. "We'd certainly be interested if it provided the connectivity and bandwidth we really needed and if it's at a cost we could afford."

US WEST's Glynn doesn't expect the cost of xDSL technology to drop to a widely affordable consumer level until the end of 1998. The biggest obstacle is the price of the modems; last year they were in the $2,000 to $3,000 range. They're now approaching $500.