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Q&A

Q1:I try to use offline techniques, but I'm still tying up my phone line. Is there anything else I can try, short of putting in a second phone line?
A1: In a rapidly growing number of areas, homeowners can get Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) service from their local phone companies. ISDN provides a single digital phone line to your home that can carry multiple simultaneous connections. So you can talk on the phone while you surf the Net and receive a fax, all through one line.

ISDN costs more than regular phone service. You'll also pay more to your Internet provider for ISDN service, and you'll have to buy a new ISDN modem. Is all that cheaper or more expensive than adding a second line? Dunno—ask your local phone company. And keep in mind that ISDN offers one benefit that a second line can't: dramatically faster Internet connection speeds at either 64KB or 128KB (depending upon what you pay to your phone company and ISP).

Less common now than ISDN is a newer technology called ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line), which offers many of the same capabilities as ISDN (including high-speed Internet and the ability to use the phone and the Net at the same time), but may work over existing copper phone lines that cannot support ISDN. ADSL (for which you do have to buy a new modem, as you would for ISDN) is just coming online now in a very few locations, so it's hard to tell where ADSL is headed, or whether it will become available in your area (ask your local phone company).

As if you don't already have enough options, note that in a growing number of cities, Internet service is offered through cable TV lines by the cable providers. If you use cable Internet, you'll never tie up your phone line while online.

Q2:I don't mind tying up my phone line, except that people can't leave me messages on my answering machine while I'm online. What can I do?
A2: Chuck the answering machine and get voice mail from your phone company or another reliable provider. Make sure the company you choose understands that when your line is busy, you want callers to be directed straight to voice mail instead of hearing a busy signal. If you use call waiting, you may have to have your voice mail configured so that it rings once or twice first (so you'll know you have a call if you're talking on the phone) and then jumps to voice mail (in case you're online). Get into the habit of checking for voice messages as soon as you go offline.

Note that many voice mail systems indicate that you have messages by making the dial tone on your phone line stutter a little. In some cases, that stuttering causes modems to think there's no dial tone, so they refuse to connect. If you do get voice mail, you may find that if you have messages waiting, you can't go online until you've listened to the messages so the dial tone can revert to normal.


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