A group of industry heavyweights, including Microsoft, Intel, and Compaq, are backing a plan to use the existing telephone infrastructure to support high-speed Internet access. Dubbed a "copper renaissance," the plan calls for Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) technology to be implemented at a faster rate than currently expected, giving users access speeds of up to 1.5 mbps (about 30 times faster than a 56K modem). And because DSL offers simultaneous voice and data, users can be constantly connected to the Net without affecting normal phone calls.

"We believe mass deployments of this type of technology will find its place over the next couple of years," said Kevin Kahn, a director with Intel's Architecture Labs.

Currently, DSL technology has seen limited availability due to the expensive equipment phone companies need to install locally to make it work. Also, DSL pricing is prohibitively expensive for most consumers with monthly costs ranging from $70-500 a month. In the near future, analysts expect access prices to drop considerably, perhaps into the $30-$50 range