Peter Wagner, a general partner at Palo Alto venture-capital giant Accel Partners, has seen the future ofInternet hookups for small businesses. It's called the digital subscriber line (DSL), and some deeppockets are betting it will eventually replace dial-up modems and ISDN connections at most privatecompanies.

The new technology is a "no-brainer," says Wagner. "DSL is priced right, the performance isright, and the service is perfect for smaller businesses."

So why haven't you heard more about DSL? Cracking the nation's telecommunications infrastructuretakes time. "It's not an overnight thing," says John Stormer, vice-president of marketing for DSL providerNorthPoint Communications, in San Francisco. One of three start-up companies doing a national rolloutof DSL, NorthPoint estimates that 40% of U.S. businesses will have access to its services by July.Presently, DSL service is available only in a few major cities.

Fixed cost and speed are what make DSL so potentially appealing. Before DSL, if you wanted fastInternet access, you had to spring for an expensive T1 phone line. So a lot of small companies justsettled for slower connections.

If DSL is unavailable in your area--and you need a cost-effective Internet hookup today--there are otheroptions. You may be able to get, for example, a T1 line at a metered rate. Stiff competition amongregional Internet service providers (ISPs), especially in big cities, has created a variety of offerings atsliding scales of speed and price. "Regional ISPs do flexible things," says Brian Scholte, director ofproduct management at Epoch Internet, in Irvine, Calif. "Someone out there should be able to help you."

Paths to the Internet

Service Skinny Monthly Cost
Dial-up modems Favored by most Net users $20-$30, plus per-hour charges
ISDN lines Switching to DSL will mean fasterspeeds at fixed prices $100-$250, plus per-hour charges
T1 phone lines Path of choice for companies that can afford it $1,000-$2,000,depending on the speed you want
Cable access Viable for soloists downloading info $35-$70
Digital subscriber lines Could become choice of small businesses $100-$500

Sources: Jupiter Communications and Forrester Research.