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For users of Internet services, the key bandwidth issue has nothing to do with the backbone - they're just trying to get passable access speeds to the 'net. Modems operating at 14.6, or 28.8 kbit/s don't always keep up with the increasingly glitzy World Wide Web. Enter ISDN, with its ability to deliver up to 128 kbit/s to basic-rate customers.

Carriers with ISDN offerings in place are doing a bang-up business: Bell Communications Research (Bellcore, Livingston, N.J.) projects that the number of basic and primary-rate ISDN lines installed in the United States will reach 900,000 by the year's end, up from 400,000 by year's end, up from 400,000 in 1994 and 626,000 1995. But even as ISKN is catching fire with 'Net users, carriers are starting to take some real heat for the way they're handling the service.

Customers have two big gripes with ISKN providers. The first is spotty availability. (…)
The second big complaint is that where ISDN is delivered, rates are going up. (…) The biggest noise is coming from California, where a planned price increase by Pacific Bell (San Francisco) has 'Net surfers fuming. "They suckered us in," says David Barry, a Reseda, Calif., PacBell ISKN user who's created a Website to keep fellow users apprised of the rate battle. "We invested in the hardware, they got us to commit, and they raised the rates," he says. "We can't go anywhere else to get ISDN."

This summer, the California Public Utilities Commission will decide whether to accept Pacific Bell's next rate tariff for ISKN. PacBell, a subsidiary of Pacific Telesis Group (San Francisco°, has proposed doubling its rates from 2 cents per minute, while capping the local unlimited-use option (once extended to all nights and weekends) at 20 hours per month.

Carl Weinschenk (April 96)