DSL can be a great solution for businesses that need fast access to the Internet. There's just one problem: It can be so hard to get. Lots of companies now offer the service, but its rollout has suffered delays and setbacks in many areas.
Partly these problems stem from the confusion Congress caused when it forcibly revamped the entire communications industry in 1996. Installations by providers require the cooperation of the phone companies, who may drag their feet, considering that many offer competing services. Bell Atlantic, for instance, was recently slapped with a class-action lawsuit contending that it's been selling a DSL service that it doesn't even have up and running yet.
Last November, the FCC tried to sort out some of these problems by forcing local phone companies to "line-share" with companies that want to provide high-speed internet access through digital subscriber lines. Previously, the only way third-party providers could offer DSL was by buying their own "stand-alone" loops (circuits) from the local phone company. This was both costly and time consuming.
Under the FCC order, local phone companies are now mandated to give access to their loops to what are called "competitive data providers," who in turn will be able to offer DSL service over the same lines and loops that now carry voice communication into the home or business. One of the largest of these providers, California-based Covad Communications, recently completed the first line-sharing installation in Minnesota.
"Line sharing allows for tangible cost savings and time savings," says Covad's Jason Oxman. "Otherwise, it takes quite awhile to order the installation and it drives up costs. The FCC's mandating of line sharing is a real pro-competitive move."
A number of other providers will offer DSL service through line-sharing arrangements with local phone companies. It should be available in many major markets by the third quarter of this year.