My path to the information superhighway is clogged with traffic.

As my computer-savvy friends have bought high-bandwidth connections and zipped into the fast lane, I've been trapped behind minivans and construction equipment, trudging along at 28.8 kilobytes per second. I know that's the speed most people are traveling, but I still can't help eyeing that broadband carpool lane with envy.

About a month ago, I figured it was time to step on the gas. I had just ordered a new bleeding-edge PC, and I was itching for the chance to take it out on the Net and open up the throttle.

But I've since learned that picking up speed on the Net isn't easy. In some cases mine, for example it's darned near impossible to set up a broadband connection, thanks to a series of mundane, real-world obstacles that really ought to have no place in cyberspace.

First, a little background. I live in a pleasant neighborhood in Tucson, Ariz., made up of nice, older homes with telephone lines that were carved by ancient gnomes from the trunks of ironwood trees. While these lines work just fine for telephone calls, they don't take kindly to any of that fancy computer-talkin' stuff.

I have a 56K modem, but I'm lucky to catch a connection faster than 21.6. When it hits 28.8, I gather up the family and offer a sacrifice to the Gods of Baud there'll be good surfing tonight!

Anyway, I hoped to upgrade to DSL, which stands for digital subscriber line. The service operates over standard telephone lines, and my local telephone company says it can move data hundreds of times faster than a 28.8 connection. The company's Web site highlights this feature with a graphic showing a wire literally ablaze with speed , which was, frankly, a little frightening. Would my homeowners' insurance cover a fire caused by a fast Net connection?

Limited reach

I soon learned I had nothing to fear. Although DSL is offered all over town, it isn't available in my particular neighborhood. Why? I had the poor judgment to move into a house located more than 15,000 feet from a telephone switching station. This places me in a sort of digital-era slum where DSL's limited extension cord can't reach. You'd think they'd have at least posted a sign: "Warning Digital Speed Bumps Ahead."


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