Dialup Internet Access uses your local phone line and your computer's "modem" to connect you to Internet. Dialup works essentially like this:

  • Your computer program (e.g. your browser) initiates a "session" with your communications software
  • Your communications software opens the modem's "communications port" NOTE: if your modem isn't installed, is broken, or is in use by another program such as your fax program, you might get an error
  • Your modem takes the phone line "off-hook" at listens for a dial-tone NOTE: if you get an error that your modem was unable to find a dial-tone, check the connection between your modem and the wall. If your modem has TWO connections, one connects your phone to modem (PHONE) and the other connects your modem to the phone line (LINE). Check that connection as well.
  • Next, your communications software "handshakes" with the ISP's modem NOTE: there are several reasons why a session cannot be established, but the most common one is that you have programmed the wrong phone number into your communications software. Sometimes, there is a problem with the ISP's modem number as well. A common troubleshooting technique is to simply dial the ISP's modem number with your landline or cell phone and see what happens. If you get the normal modem sound (screech/handshake), check your settings to make sure you're dialing the right phone number.
  • Finally, you should connect and be able to surf the web, download email, and so on, albeit slowly.

Modems: Modem speeds are generally between 20K and 50K bits per second (e.g. 56K), depending on the quality of your phone line and the quality of your modem. Most modern modems are "software modems", are very cheap to manufacture, and are of very low quality. If you are stuck using dialup, we recommend that you purchase a "hardware modem", such as a U S Robotics 56K external modem. The retail cost for a decent hardware modem is between $20 and $50, but worth every cent.