During the dot-com boom, you could walk in to a 7-eleven store and pick up prepaid dialup access. Alas, it appears that you can no longer do that, at least in the DC area. Prepaid dialup used to be all over the place: in grocery stores, office supply stores, gas stations, and so on. Nowadays I can’t find anything beyond the latest AOL release.
Sometimes prepaid dialup access is just what you need. For example, my friend Adam is in town between semesters. At school he has ethernet in his room and wireless in the library. When he is in town, he is at the mercy of the dialup gods. He’s burned through all of the AOL free trials. He has worn out his welcome at Netzero and Juno, both United Online companies. He really only needs dialup access for about a month, so signing up for monthly services like Earthlink does not make any sense. Sprint offers prepaid internet access, but you can only order it online and it only ships via US Postal Service. That’s great and all, but by the time it arrives at the door, Adam’s vacation will be halfway over.
I did what any geek would do in a situation like this: I googled for it. The fourth entry down was for a company called Budget Dialup. I clicked around the site a bit and liked what I saw. They have the same old stupid software that you can download to get dialup running on 98/ME/2000/XP. You know, the type that sits in your tray and makes everything seem a little less stable. Luckily, they also offer the option of manual setup, where you just use your login/password and point your modem at a local number. Another thing that rocks is that they acknowledge that Linux exists, and even provide basic information about using their dialup service under Linux. Their supported systems page lists all of the major Windows releases as well as Macintosh (I believe they have instructions for ~OS9 and OSX), PDAs, Linux, gaming consoles, and more.
Their prices rock too! You’re looking at $4 for 10 hours, $7 for 20 hours, and $20 for 60 hours. They also have the plan that I signed Adam up for: 120 hours over 30 days for $10. Now we’re talking. I signed him up and passed on his username/password along with a pretty impressive list of local dialup numbers. There were probably 4-5 numbers in his zip code or a neighboring zip code. A couple of hours later he was back at home and online. No problems.
Early results are encouraging. He has not been randomly disconnected, which is a problem that he has had with the major free/low cost providers out there. Speeds are about as zippy as they get from his house, and he has had no problems so far. They use Level3 for their modem pools, which seems to be used by some of the larger and higher cost ISPs in the area.
The only nit I have with them so far is that they linked to a list of settings for various operating systems when I made my purchase, but I have not been able to find them again on their site after looking around for 5 or 10 minutes. They are probably stashed away somewhere, and I could easily get things set up in Linux, I just didn’t have a chance to look at them when I was checking out. But that is really a minor issue.
If anyone is looking for prepaid dialup, or backup access if their broadband connection goes down, I would definitely suggest Budget Dialup. I’m tempted to pick up 10 hours just in case my connection goes down or I need dialup access while out of town. All of the plans except for the 30 day plan can also be used with a toll-free number. For the cost of a normal sized latte, it’s not a bad thing to keep in your back pocket.