In mid-1990s, dial-up access was already common, but its speeds were still low (like 14-28 kbps, 56 kbps only in the late 1990s), and I don't know if there were any popular solutions to share dial-up access across LAN. On the other hand, T1 lines (1.5 Mbps) were already common, but price of those was still too high for small businesses.

What was the most common method of internet access in US for customers who needed more than dial-up, but couldn't (or wouldn't) afford T1 line? I know that ISDN (64K or 128K) is an obvious answer - but how common was ISDN use in real life? I personally don't know anyone who used ISDN in the office back then. I also know that ISDN was actually popular back then in Europe.

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    In my personal experience, you connect to the nearest piece of Ethernet wiriing, which is on the DEC world-wide engineering network, which has gateways to the internet. This may not be typical :-)
    – dave
    Commented Feb 14, 2021 at 21:47
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    Being near arterial roads meant access rurally. I had home/home office Centrex ISDN (un-metered, cheap Internet as an ISP package) in the Santa Cruz Mountains off Highway 17 from around 93 to 03, 2B+D, three phone numbers, a box for managing data versus voice, multi-line phones. A neighbor at the top of the hill had a T1. DSL wasn't quite available there before moving on, AT&T offers it there now along with Cox/Xfinitiy offering 1G cable Internet.
    – user9041
    Commented Feb 15, 2021 at 8:31
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    Can't answer about the US, but in NZ I set up internet access for our small office in 1994. Used a leased line (POTS) and US Robotics modern which I think was 28.8k bps. An old laptop running slackware Linux acted as a router. Worked pretty well as 90% of traffic was email, with a bit of FTP. We were paying per MB so not a lot of web browsing and few people in the office needed internet access
    – GrantB
    Commented Feb 15, 2021 at 18:47
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    @Mitchell Spector I googled up Ricochet, wow, I didn't know they were so big - and that's years before Wi-Fi or cellular data became common! Apparently, they weren't profitable, but still, that was quite an achievement.
    – Alexander
    Commented Feb 18, 2021 at 17:05
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    @Alexander According to joelonsoftware.com/2000/12/20/… , "They spent $500,000,000 and went out of business owing almost a billion dollars, with 51,000 subscribers. They would have had to make about $30,000 per subscriber for the business idea to have worked." But it was great while it lasted, and then DSL came to take its place. Commented Feb 18, 2021 at 17:12

3 Answers 3


In most places, it was dial-up until ADSL. I had two customers with ISDN for a while, both replaced with ADSL when available. One was sometime in the late 90s until 2003, the other roughly 2003-2004. I had one with a fractional T1 (the other part of the T1 was for actual phone circuits) from ~ 2000 until 2008 - if they had stayed in business longer they probably would have ended up with ADSL or (eventually) FIOS for higher speed at a fraction of the cost.

But most were strictly dial-up until ADSL was available. ISDN was comparable to 2+ dial-up lines, but only really made sense if:

(a) shared among a few users (but not a "lot" of users, because then each one didn't get enough bandwidth for themselves) and/or

(b) used for hosting remote access to an in-house server, which was the case for one of my customers - ironically, that same customer used a whole bank of modems to dial out to remote equipment, so they were not analog-modem free in any way.


There was a rather unusual ISDN cluster in and around Seattle, but in general you're right, it was dial-up at 56k. In fact, I know of many small business using dial-up as late as 2010 - even in some large cities like Denver.

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    We had a 56k DDS link which was better than dial up, and not metered like ISDN (it was around my area) and cheaper than T1.
    – mannaggia
    Commented Feb 15, 2021 at 0:21

The library where I worked in the 1990s used bonded 64kb/s ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode) ISDN between sites because ADSL wasn't available in most of locations we didn't have a huge need for bandwidth (each site had between 10-30 Wyse terminals), and TCP/IP wasn't needed. It worked fine until there was a need for Internet, at which point the non-terminals began eating all the bandwidth as QoS wasn't available on the switches at the time.

Because ATM uses virtual circuits, it was really annoying when any physical connection went down because the physical connections had to be re-established and then the bonded virtual circuit, which could often take a couple of minutes.

  • I used MultiTech modems with 33k (I think) modems - 56k only works if one end is at the telco - together with MultiTech multiplexers for Wyse terminals + various printers. The MultiTech multiplexers were beautiful little boxes because they were designed for asynch where typical stat muxes expected a synchronous connection. Would often stay up for weeks or months at a time (except for the customer that insisted on turning everything off every day) but I setup autodial so as soon as you turned on the mux, the modem would dial and all was good. Max I ever did was (I think) 16 ports on one line. Commented Feb 15, 2021 at 22:15

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