Getting Online on the Road

When Dan Stewart of Dick Simon Trucking wants to access the Internet, he doesn’t look for the nearest truck stop. Instead, he reaches for his cell phone. “Plug laptop to cell, then dial up to AOL,” says Stewart. “It’s moderately reliable, but it depends a lot on how busy the whole cell system is and how good the signal strength is. The speed is 19,600 bps, which is not very fast, but more than good enough to check e-mail and chat with friends.”

As Stewart knows, there’s more than one way to get online while you’re on the road:

TRUCK STOP KIOSKS. Many truck stops have computer stations you can rent. The kiosks can run as high as 25 cents per minute. In some stops, you can pay slightly less by the hour.

TRUCK STOP DATA PORTS Most truck stops don’t allow dialing local access numbers from the data ports. Instead, you’ll have to use an 800-number, which can cost up to 15 cents per minute, or a long-distance number, which can run as high as 18 cents per minute. Data ports have a maximum speed of 56K but could be slower in some areas.

CELL PHONE WITH COMPUTER. Some cell phone service providers offer Internet dial-up. As part of your basic service plan, it costs $20 to $60 per month; as a separate plan, $6 to $10 per month. You might have to purchase additional equipment or adapters to connect phone to computer. Make sure your service plan covers data transfers; be aware you may incur roaming charges if you’re not in a covered metropolitan area.

SELF-CONTAINED CELL PHONE ACCESS. Some cell services offer Internet access directly to phones that have LCD screens and features that allow you to view e-mail and plain text versions of many websites. Connection speeds are slower, but you might find the convenience and flexibility are worth the compromise. The phones can cost less than $100, while service plans range from $7 to $15 a month.

CABPNV.NET. Many of the truck stop parking lot connections formerly operated as Park ‘N’ View are now under new ownership, CabPNV. The $30 monthly Power Plan includes unlimited Internet access, phone service with voice mail, cable television and long-distance calling.