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What they are and why you need one.


Have you heard about the information superhighway? This is a plan to connect personal computers and super computers to create one huge network using existing telephone and cable lines to transmit movies, television, and computer files. The goal is to have all schools, hospitals, homes, and businesses connected by the year 2000. Can't wait? You don't have to. With a modem, you can get started with telecommunications now.

For example, I used a modem this week to look up the text of Vice-President Gore's speech introducing the superhighway plan, read reviews of the latest Michael Crichton book, and logged on the local library's computer to see when the book would be available. During the recent earthquake in southern California, computers users had communications even though the regular telephone lines weren't working. The first step to telecommunicating is to get a modem.

The derivation of the word modem is "modulator-demodulator," which describes the way this small hardware device works. A modem changes (or modulates) the digital information created by a computer and sends it over phone lines to another computer where it is changed again (demodulated).

To add a modem to your computer system, you need to have hardware and software. The hardware must be Hayes-compatible, and the faster the baud rate, the better. Baud rate, bps (bits per second), indicates the speed the computer transmits information over the telephone lines. For best performance and economy, look for a modem that operates at 14,00 bps (or "14.4"). The faster the rate of transmission, the less the time you will spend online, and in telecommunications, time really is money. Time translates into charges on your telephone bill, and service costs are baed on how much time you spend on-line.

The other piece of information to consider when buying a modem is its ability to compress data. Look for V.42 or V.42 bis models. You can buy an internal modem (a board that goes inside the computer) or an external modem (a small flat box that connects to the computer with cables and takes up room on your desk). Be aware that you can't use your phone while the computer is using it, and you can't have call-waiting service because it disrupts modem transmissions. Some people prefer to have a second phone line dedicated to the modem.

Some modems come with software "bundled" with the hardware as a package deal. Others are "bundled" with start-up software for on-line services such as America Online, Prodigy, and CompuServe. Some computers have modems or fax modems already installed, including the software to operate them. Telecommunications software will allow you to use local, national, and international electronic bulletin boards (BBS's). For example, the ABLE INFORM BBS at (301) 589-3563 provides information and communication about assistive technology, disability, and rehabilitation. Call Dan Wendling at (800) 227-0216 for more information.

Telecommunication setup and operation can be tricky, especially for novices. It is, however, one of the most exciting and rapidly expanding uses for personal computers.

COPYRIGHT 1994 Paralyzed Veterans of America
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Modems, part 1
Author:O'Leary, Stephanie
Publication:PN - Paraplegia News
Date:Mar 1, 1994
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