Extras - Upgrade Your Firm's Internet Connection - Now! The economic slowdown is offering an unprecedented opportunity to upgrade your firm's Internet connection.

Sheryl Katz is General Counsel and CIO of 101communications, LLC

It’s common knowledge that the aftermath of the dot com stock price collapse has led to a price war in computer equipment. This economic slow down created a chain reaction in consequences, among them the shut down of Internet providers, particularly those providing DSL services. It also provides an opportunity for firms and businesses to upgrade their Internet connections leading to some significant benefits.

Many smaller law firms and smaller offices of large law firms, have used DSL as their primary means of connecting to the Internet. Not too long ago it appeared that DSL was the most promising and least expensive way to get a broadband connection. Unfortunately DSL has never lived up to its promise. DSL service has never developed the reach that providers originally announced, and the DSL infrastructure has been plagued with technical problems that has made DSL service less than reliable. A recent article on ZDNET for example, related some DSL installation horror stories, pointing out that something as commonplace as squirrels eating through wires has been a serious challenge to DSL networks. (See: Tales from the Broadband Trenches.)

Readers who work for firms with DSL connections no doubt have their own tales of unreliability and outages. Recently in California, a major provider’s DSL service was down for over two weeks by some reports although the provider would not officially admit it.

T1 service on the other hand is a far more mature technology. Since it is built on the same structure as the phone system, it has the same reliability. T1 service is not perfect either, but its record of stability and reliability is significantly better than that provided by DSL. Most small firms have avoided using T1 connections because, two or three years ago when they built their Internet infrastructure they were perceived as too expensive.

Outages cost money. They directly impact revenue and productivity. They impair the ability of attorneys to do their work because they rely on the Internet for communication and research. Internet sites are also important marketing tools. If a firms Internet connection is down, a prospective client might choose another firm, an existing client might get frustrated and go elsewhere, important documents might fail to get transmitted. The Internet has become critical to the revenue producing heart of the business, and a lost connection, even for a few minutes, is a threat to profits.

Recently our company undertook an evaluation of our Internet connectivity. We found that prices for T1 service, in light of the dot-com slow down, have become significantly reduced. By calling several providers in each area where we had offices, we were able to negotiate significant rate reductions in T1 bids. We were also able to get some bids from nationwide providers that would serve our entire company through one rate. Some examples of reductions. In one office were were paying $1,800/month for one T1 and a backup DSL line; we now have two T1 lines to that office at a price of $1,600/month. At another office we were paying $3300/month for a T1, through renegotiation with the same provider we reduced the bill to $1,225/month. We were then able to apply the $2000 savings and provide a T1 or fractional T1 to every office with more than 5 employees at a total cost company-wide for Internet connectivity that is less than we were paying for mostly T1s. As an added benefit, our employees have grown to hate the DSL connections so intensely that this change is having a positive impact on morale.

Similar results are available to law firms. Some providers are charging as little as $499/month for a 512 line in major cities. This makes fraction T1 access feasible for offices with as few as 5 employees. A firm with a few offices might easily be able to both upgrade its Internet access and save a few dollars in one move. The result will be better connectivity, easier access for clients, and happier attorneys and staff who will find web usage much easier.