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Twenty-first century technology is coming to Beaufort. Fast. 'High-speed Internet access, also known as "broadband," is coming on line in downtown Beaufort and will be available countywide by the end of the year. 'Broadband will enable Internet users to connect to 'Net 10 to 15 times faster. 'High-speed access to the Internet is expected to have a profound effect on how much time people spend on line and what they do there. 'Broadband will keep many of the promises made for the potential of the Internet in the past several years. It will allow users to watch full-motion video of news reports and movie trailers. Downloading large amounts of data like music files or software upgrades will take just a few minutes instead of up to an hour. '<b>The technology</b> 'Right now most people use a 56k modem to connect to the Internet. These modems allow one computer to communicate with another at a maximum speed of 56,000 bits per second (56kbps). A connection of 56kbps or slower is called "narrowband." 'A few Beaufort residents and businesses use ISDN service from Sprint, which allows their computers up to a 256kbps connection to the Internet - about five times faster than a standard modem. 'A connection with speeds between 56kbps and 256kbps is considered "midband." 'New services becoming available will allow individuals to connect to the Internet at speeds up to 768kbps -15 times faster than the average modem today. 'Businesses will be able to choose connection speeds of up to 3mbps (3,000kbps). 'Broadband services are sold based on the speed of the connection. Standard connection speeds are offered at various prices, and business customers often negotiate a price for the connection speed they require. '<b>The players</b> 'Several companies are working to offer high-speed Internet access in Beaufort. 'Charter Communications, which provides cable television service in Beaufort, is feverishly upgrading its cable network to add broadband capabilities. If you live downtown you have seen their contractor's trucks, seemingly on every corner. 'Charter's service, called Charter Pipeline, will become available in the coming weeks in downtown Beaufort. By year's end Charter will offer its Pipleline service in Port Royal and across the Whale Branch river to Sheldon and Big Estate. 'Charter Pipeline will offer residential service at speeds of up to 512kbps for $39.95 per month. Higher- speed services will be available to businesses. Pipeline customers can buy a cable modem or rent one from Charter for $9.95 per month. 'Hargray Communications, a Hilton Head-based company that has been offering Internet access and wireless phone services in Beaufort for several years, is building a new network from scratch. 'Hargray will not only use a different technology from that employed by Charter, but also will take a different approach to offering services. 'Initially, Charter will offer only video (cable TV) and data (high-speed Internet access). In the future their network might be upgraded to offer voice (telephone service) as well. 'Hargray will offer voice, video and data from the beginning, giving Beaufort residents the option of buying all of their telecommunications services from one company. 'Hargray's new services will become available in downtown Beaufort in the coming weeks and will expand outward from there. Packages of services will range from a single phone line and 128kbps Internet access for $39.99 per month to a package with phone, TV and Internet access for $119.99 per month. 'Services can be ordered singly and businesses will be able to get Internet access at speeds up to 2mbps. 'Users of Hargray's service will need a network interface card (NIC) for their computer. Many computers, especially laptops, come with a NIC built in. NIC's can be purchased from Hargray or any computer store. 'Local phone service provider Sprint will offer its broadband service, called FastConnect, in early November. Sprint will offer residential customers 512kbps Internet access for $49.99 per month and access speeds of up to 3mbps to businesses. 'Connection to Sprint's service will require a DSL modem, available from Sprint. '<b>Martin N. Murphy is a Beaufort-based writer and antiques dealer.</b>