by John Bajkowski
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This annual issue is designed as a jumpstart guide to computer-assisted investing. First, Wayne Thorp gives the rundown on what to look for when buying a computer for investing, and then we provide our top investment software and Web picks for both Windows and Mac systems.
While it is possible to perform investment analysis and portfolio tracking without the aid of a computer, a computer frees investors from making many trips to the library and keeping an accounting track record of portfolio actions on a paper ledger. The Internet provides an extensive electronic research library that easily surpasses the traditional information available at your local library.
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The key is knowing where to look and having a system and Internet connection up to the task. If you plan to gather most of your information on the Web, then you should examine whether it is worthwhile to pay for high-speed Internet access, also referred to as a broadband connection.
Cable companies and phone companies are currently battling for market share, but taking slightly different paths.
The Baby Bells typically offer DSL broadband connections for their clients. This technology is able to support high-speed connections over your regular phone wire provided that you are not too far from a switching station. The Web sites of most local phone companies allow potential customers to enter their phone number and address and determine if DSL service is an option.
Among the local phone companies, SBC Communications and Verizon Communications have been the most aggressive in slashing prices, with SBC offering monthly deluxe DSL service for $36.95 per month. Recently, SBC indicated that it has 3.1 million DSL customers, nearly a 60% increase from last year.
Cable companies offer their own broadband services for between $45 and $55 a month with faster download speeds than DSL. Consumer DSL service is normally provided at downstream (data flowing from the Internet to your system) speeds of 768Kbps, while cable broadband connections are now typically being offered at double the downstream speed of 1.5Mbps.
Comcast, the nations largest cable network, said it added 472,000 new broadband subscribers for the quarter ended September 30, 2003, a 39% increase from the same period last year.
It is estimated that 80% of the consumer PC market is still not using broadband access, but a significant amount is ready to switch over. Expect to see numerous promotions enticing you to select a given service. One trick to watch out for is a low monthly subscription fee that is only valid for a limited time—such as the first six months of your service.
I recently signed up for cable broadband service with the understanding of free installation and a reduced monthly fee for a limited time. The initial bill indicated a $200 charge for the free installation and a monthly fee double the discounted rate—fees that I am still trying to straighten out.
Broadband vendors sensing price sensitivity from customers have also started to offer cheaper monthly access rates, but at reduced speeds compared to their normal offerings. The speeds are still five to 10 times faster than traditional dial-up connections at rates slightly higher than normal dial-up fees.