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DSL: Why This Old Internet Connection Just Won’t Die

DSL Internet
DSL service just won't go away in many parts of rural America. Image: Creative Commons.

When most people hear the term “DSL,” they likely think of one of the primary methods of Internet access from around the term of the millennium.

DSL, which stands for “Digital Subscriber Line,” never quite went away, especially in rural areas. Hackaday describes DSL as “essentially internet over copper.” It was the prevalent Internet technology after the days of dial-up Internet access, but before cable modems arrived on the scene.

DSL has been declining for years, and there are signs the technology is, at last, on its way out. Last October, AT&T announced that it would no longer offer traditional DSL.

“We’re beginning to phase out outdated services like DSL and new orders for the service will no longer be supported after October 1,” AT&T said in a statement last fall. “Current DSL customers will be able to continue their existing service or where possible upgrade to our 100 percent fiber network.”

AT&T, per a USA Today report at the time, didn’t offer download speeds faster than 6 Mbps on the discontinued service. That speed was much lower than the FCC’s threshold of what’s considered broadband. AT&T continues to offer fiber-optic and hybrid-fiber services, including what Hackaday describes as a “fiber-to-the-node version” of DSL.

Not long after, a report authored by an advocacy group, along with a workers union, accused AT&T of concentrating its fiber-optic upgrades on richer and less rural areas.

“AT&T is making the digital divide worse and failing its customers and workers by not investing in crucial fiber-optic buildout that is the standard for broadband networks worldwide,” the report said. “An analysis of AT&T’s 21-state network, an August 2020 survey of CWA members, and reports by local advocates in AT&T’s service area reveal widespread service below the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband definition of 25/3 Mbps and demonstrate AT&T’s disinterest in building fiber-optic cable.”

With the loss of AT&T selling DSL, it leaves the potential of those in rural areas to lose their access to reliable Internet.

As of the end of the second quarter, AT&T had about 653,000 active DSL connections, a number that has gradually dwindled over time.

Other telecom companies, such as Verizon and Frontier, continue to offer DSL service, but clearly don’t consider it a major part of their business. Verizon, however, no longer offers DSL in areas where Fios service is available.

“Depending on where you live, you may not have a lot of internet options,” reviews.org said of DSL. “Generally, we recommend DSL internet over satellite and dial-up. But if you’ve also got a choice between cable or fiber internet, those are likely better choices.

 Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist, essayist, and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review, and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

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