Blazing Modems

Having high-speed access to the Net at home is a special treat. Getting it to work can be tricky

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I'm turning into a truly shallow and pathetic person. The proof? Ask me to name the most important moment in my life this past year, and I answer without hesitation: getting high-speed access to the Internet at home. It happened two weeks ago, and I'm still faint with excitement. I feel like getting bumper stickers printed up: ASK ME ABOUT MY CABLE MODEM! For months, years even, I've been stalking my local phone and cable monopolies, only to be told that broadband access to the Net wasn't yet available on my block. The phone company's offering, known as DSL, isn't even on the horizon where I live on Long Island, N.Y. It was my cable monopoly, Cablevision, that finally won the race to my house.

I had heard horror stories about how long it would take to install the cable modem. These turned out to be untrue. Since I already had a TV-cable outlet in my home office, it took the cable guy half an hour to plug in the modem, drop an Ethernet card into my PC and configure it all. Bing, bang, I'm online at 5 or more megabits per sec.

And suddenly life will never be the same. It was like the first time I received an e-mail. Trust me on this: once you get high-speed access to the Net and it's at your disposal all the time, you'll understand what all the hoopla is about. It's faster than my connection at work. My two phone lines, which were always tied up with modem traffic, are now always free. My daughters can connect to AOL without ever hearing a busy signal. And my wife can buy things on eBay fast, without having to wait through endless page reloads. So not all of it is good news. Still...

Within a day of getting online, however, I realized I needed two things: a home network so the two computers in my office could share the cable modem, and a fire wall to protect my machines. The fire wall was especially urgent, I felt. It spooked me to leave my PCs connected to the Net all day unattended. The simple security solutions--unplugging them or disabling file sharing-- didn't work because I needed to share files with my wife. And I can never remember to unplug the modem at night. I ended up getting BlackICE Defender, a $39 piece of software that I downloaded (in about a minute), from I recommend it highly for home users. It's easy to install, and you hardly know it's there. It also allows you to be more proactive; BlackICE records any suspicious activity and reports the details to you, which you can then turn over to your Internet-service provider.

For my home network, I chose 3Com's HomeConnect Home Network Kit ($149), which allowed me to link my two machines and modem via telephone wire. Note: you'll need to open up each PC and drop in a PCI card, which used to make me nervous back when I wasn't so shallow and pathetic. Now I enjoy doing stuff like that. It makes me feel manly.

The downside to the high-speed experience? Setting up a home network and fire wall involves considerable fiddling. I needed (and got) tech support from both 3Com and Network ICE. And naturally, within hours of finally getting my network and fire wall working, my cable modem crashed. I called Cablevision on Thursday at 7 a.m. to report it. The company said the earliest it could get someone to my house was Sunday. Some things never change.

You can watch Josh on CBS's The Early Show on Thursday at 7:30 a.m. E.T. Any questions? E-mail him at