DSL: Darn Speedy Link

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Promises of higher speed on the Web may come and go, but the Digital Subscriber Line is one you'd better believe in. Why? Because when the combined forces of Compaq, Intel, Microsoft and the Baby Bells join forces on a product, and say they'll have it in stores by Christmas, you can bet the bank you'll be unwrapping it this December. It makes commercial sense for all concerned: "Microsoft and Intel's business depends on increasing bandwith," says TIME senior writer and tech expert Joshua Ramo, "and the margins in the phone business suck."

Living up to the promise will be much easier than getting Windows 98 to ship on time. The infrastructure will cost much less than was previously thought, plus the plan to produce modems that connect at a screamingly high 1.5 million bits per second is actually modest by DSL standards. The makers of the technology believe it can squeeze as much as 8 million bits out of a copper phone wire perhaps more. "It's the great bandwith horizon," says Ramo. "You never get any closer to the edge."

When the Internet-powers-that-be work alone, however, the results are more dubious. Witness Intel's unveiling Tuesday of Quick Web technology, which will do little more than double the download of a 28.8 modem, while delivering clunky graphics and cached pages. Most surfers would likely prefer to wait for the wintel-Bell cartel to deliver. Next problem: how to handle traffic when everyone and their grandmother is sucking down a million bits a second.