I have always been a vocal supporter of the Internet as today's practical way to communicate. I can send and receive e-mail wherever I am in the world, either by using a service like CompuServe to access my Internet account, or by using an acquaintance's Internet account to access my inbox while I travel. But recently I faced having to establish an Internet link after arriving in a western European country which will remain nameless. Before travelling, I had assumed it would take only a few hours to get on-line. My thinking went something like this: I have a friend who will let me use his Internet account. He has a PPP connection so I can dial into the Net and download my mail using a POP mail program such as Netscape Mail or Eudora. All I need to do is configure the PPP software and mail program on my computer to talk to his Internet provider - a five-minute process in theory - and I'll be up and running. Things didn't work out quite so well. On arrival, I faced my first hurdle - phone cables. Getting an adapter for my phone cables was no problem, but when I plugged the line into my modem I got no dial tone. It took three different phone cables until I found one which worked with my modem. Inexplicably, all of them worked normally with a telephone handset. The next shock was that I couldn't hold a stable connection to the Internet more than 10 per cent of the time. I found that I could be on-line for two or three minutes, if that, and then I would lose the connection. On the few occasions the connection held long enough to download a Web page or process my mail, the activity was at speeds way below my modem's capability. My friend didn't have this problem - he got full-speed connections, although they held only about half the time. I couldn't figure it out. Why would his modem work fine while mine - which works fine everywhere else from Hong Kong to Canada to the Middle East - simply get moody because I was in the foggy and damp climes of Europe? The next day I was talking on the phone and every few seconds I heard a click. I asked about this after the call to find out that the local telecommunications firm sends out these signals so that phones with special displays can provide a real-time indicator of the cost of a call. It seemed that this might be confusing my North American modem which hadn't been designed to handle this signal, so I tried a local modem - and promptly got full speed. Like my friend, however, the connection dropped out within a few minutes about half the time. All through this, my mail would be accumulating with my service provider as I struggled to hold connections long enough to download my entire inbox. I was wondering if, perhaps, the problems with stability of connection might not be related to the service provider's modems or systems. Then, two weeks later, I tried connecting from an office only a few kilometres from the home of my friend, and found I was getting a stable connection more than 90 per cent of the time. The answer (which was not discovered until about a month later) was that my friend's flat was in an area still using analog phone lines whereas the office block was just over an invisible border where digital lines had been installed. The whole sorry saga was surprising because I was in a 'developed' country. So, what is the moral of the story? I'd venture this: the Internet is easy as long as you are at home. And that all depends on where you call home.