From the March 1997 issue of Entrepreneur

The latest in modern technology

Tangled Web

Growing congestion on the Internet is causing problems in more ways than one. In some cases, the Internet's unrelenting growth is straining the nation's telecommunications systems, causing local telephone service failures. Increasingly, businesses are becoming concerned about the Internet's speed and reliability. Fed up with never-ending busy signals, frustrated users have even taken to referring to the slowing medium as the "World Wide Wait."

"Eventually, you get enough people working off one shared switch, and the [telephone system] just can't cope with that much traffic," explains Susan Estrada, author of Connecting to the Internet (O'Reilly & Associates) and president and CEO of Internet publishing firm Aldea Communications in Carlsbad, California.

The problem has worsened with the advent of flat-rate fees offering unlimited "all-you-can-eat" access (although companies such as Netcom On-Line Communication Services and CompuServe have backed away from these services in recent months). Also contributing to the snarl are changing traffic patterns, says Robert Deward at Pacific Telesis in San Francisco. While voice traffic has traditionally peaked at 3 p.m. for residential use and 4 p.m. for business use, with the advent of Internet usage, the peak period has widened to a four-hour stretch between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. Moreover, while the average voice call is less than four minutes long, studies show that Internet calls usually last six minutes.

With some saying the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better, Estrada challenges Internet service providers (ISPs) to develop usage plans tailored to small-business owners. Many entrepreneurs may not want unlimited access, just a reliable way to send e-mail and communicate, says Estrada.

If you're dissatisfied with the quality of service you're getting, take a look at your existing plan or ISP. It may be worth paying a little extra for another plan or switching providers to ensure more dependable service.

Disc 'N' Dat

After a copyright protection agreement was finally reached last October, industry watchers predict the much-anticipated release of the digital video disc (DVD) should occur by month's end. Experts say between three and five companies will release video players (for use with TV sets) and DVD-ROM drives (for computer use), with more companies expected to follow shortly.

What's the excitement all about? "The main advantage of DVD is increased capacity," says Wolfgang Schlichting at International Data Corp., a Framingham, Massachusetts-based market research company for the high-tech industry. The first DVD-ROMs expected on the market will hold about 4.7GB of data, 133 minutes of high-quality video or roughly seven times the amount of audio on a CD-ROM. Recordable discs, or DVD-R (write-once only), are planned for release this summer. Early versions of rewriteable DVD-RAMs may be out by year-end.

Still, experts caution against running out and investing in the new technology before taking all factors into consideration. Schlichting says the initial price for a DVD-ROM player is expected to be just below $1,000--significantly higher than current CD-ROM player prices. Lack of content available initially on DVD-ROM is also anticipated to be a drawback.

Stop The Faxes

Have a nagging problem with some company tying up your fax line with unsolicited faxes? Consider calling in the help of Fax Me Not. Fax Source Inc., a Denver-based fax broadcasting company, has created the service, dubbed the "fax police," to crack down on unwanted faxes. Companies register for a flat $35 annual fee; further charges depend on the number of faxes you want removed from fax broadcasting lists or from other sources. Fax Me Not notifies the offending party to stop sending you faxes--and even takes legal action if requests are repeatedly ignored. To have a sign-up sheet faxed to you, call (800) 747-1747, extension 7.

Contact Sources

Aldea Communications, P.O. Box 188125, Carlsbad, CA 92009, (619) 929-1100;

International Data Corp., 5 Speen St., Framingham, MA 01701, (508) 872-8200.