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Busy Signal' survey rates national ISPs

Graphic February 19, 1998
Web posted at: 6:59 p.m. EST (2359 GMT)

By CNN Interactive Producer Steve Baxter

(CNN) -- Are you tired of getting busy signals when you dial up your Internet service provider? If so, maybe it's time for a change. Boardwatch Magazine (, a monthly Internet trade publication, studied the access performance of national Net providers and has announced the winners.

IBM Internet Connection Services ( came out on top with the highest percentage of connections and fastest modem speeds.

The study, conducted January 1-February 1, 1998, covered 90 national dialup service providers. Over 145,000 calls were made to 450 points of presence across the United States during the 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. prime usage period for dialup Internet service. The study was designed to calculate call completion rates and busy signals for the service providers, along with average modem connection speeds.

"Customer dissatisfaction with Internet Service Providers is growing and is beginning to dramatically increase churn rates as dialup customers look for alternatives," says Boardwatch Editor Jack Rickard, Virtually all of it centers around one topic --- busy signals. We wanted to see if it was really a problem. It is."

Call completion rates ranged from a low of 63.66 percent at Internet Hotline to a high of 97.85 percent at GroundZer0 Internet. At the low end, this means a little more than one out of every three calls is greeted with a busy signal. At the high end, slightly over two calls per hundred get a busy signal.

The other surprise in the test data centered on average modem connection speeds. The test used two 56Kbps modems. One based on Rockwell's K56flex technology and the other on 3COM's X2 technology. "We have assumed for nearly a year that these were two essentially peer technologies," Rickard said. "They are not."

The average connect speed across all 450 ports was 32,568 bits per second. But for K56flex ports the average was 30,849 bps compared to an average 45,192 bps for x2 ports. "Basically, the x2 ISPs had a huge advantage with regards to connect speed," Rickard said.

The final ranking of the Top Ten Dialup ISPs used a combination of call completion rate and average connect speed, weighted somewhat heavily in favor of call completion rate as the important factor.


IBM Internet
Connection Services
1 1886 1802 95.55% 45780
TEK Interactive Group 2 1765 1606 90.99% 45350
MCI 3 1881 1714 91.12% 44860
Micronet 4 1669 1457 87.30% 45590
MindSpring 5 1585 1468 92.62% 40080
GroundZer0 6 1351 1322 97.85% 34830
Fnet Corp 7 1539 1478 96.04% 34630
TDSNET 8 1380 1313 95.14% 35220
Log On America 9 1383 1286 92.99% 35620
Internet Service
10 1902 1822 95.79% 32770

America Online, widely perceived as the busy signal bad-boy of the Internet over the past few years, did rank in the bottom third of the 90 services tested at position number 62 with an average call completion rate of 87.1 percent -- about two points below the 89.06 percent average of the test. But they were by no means the worst in the pile.

IBM Internet Connection Services was selected as best performing Dialup Provider based on a call completion rate of 95.55 percent and an average x2 connect speed of 45780 bps across 1,802 completed calls to different IBM ports across the country. "They don't fail, and they don't slow down," said Rickard, describing IBM. "We barely considered them a dial-up provider before this study. We do now."

Full details of the survey will be released at the Internet Service Provider convention (ISPCON) in March. Results will also be published in Boardwatch's next quarterly directory of over 4,600 Internet Service Providers in the United States and Canada.


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