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Telecommuters get no lovin' from their ISPs, study finds

August 7, 2008 |  4:56 pm

Telecommuting Gas prices are soaring, roads are congested and you've gotten kind of hooked on Days of Our Lives. Sounds like it's time to telecommute.

But good luck trying to use your virtual private network, or VPN, while sending e-mail and surfing the Web. According to a Forrester Research study released Wednesday, telecommunication companies don't focus on consumers who work from home. As a result, those workers suffer slower Web speeds, slower customer service and security issues they otherwise might not face if they were working at the office.

"Because home workers' telecommunication needs are not strictly personal nor precisely business-based, providers have a difficult time creating a product strategy for these consumers," analyst Sally M. Cohen wrote in the report.

They should start thinking about consumers who telecommute (Cohen calls them "prosumers"). According to Forrester, 41% of adults who use a computer at work also work at home after-hours. About 9% of online consumers telecommute regularly, and 22.8 million consumers run a business from home.

Cohen listed a few features telecommuters might need:

  • More bandwith. About half of enterprises in the U.S. and Europe have virtual private networks that can be accessed from home, but logging in with low bandwith can be next to impossible.
  • Better customer care. The last thing telecommuters want to do when they're rushing to file a report is wait in a customer-service line or yell at voice prompts.
  • Increased security. Telecommuting can create privacy concerns for employers and employees.

I asked AT&T, Charter, Time Warner and Verizon what services they offer for people who telecommute. The answer: nothing special. But consumers who pay a bit more for Internet might be all set anyway. Verizon's FiOS, only available in some areas, transmits at speeds up to 50 megabits per second. Its DSL goes up to 7 megabits. Time Warner's top package transmits at 6 megabits per second, although some areas get service as fast as 10 megabits per second. AT&T's DSL and U-Verse (also only available in some areas), offer the same speeds as Time Warner.

For now, telecommuters in Glendale, Burbank, Long Beach and Riverside have it best: those with Charter Communications can get speeds as fast as 16 megabits per second as well as a free anti-virus and security package to boot.

-- Alana Semuels

Semuels, a Times staff writer, covers marketing and the L.A. tech scene.

Photo by Stanley Leary / Associated Press

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