Telephone lines were designed to carry the human voice, not electronic data from a computer. Modems were invented to convert digital computer signals into a form that allows them to travel over the phone lines. Those are the scratchy sounds you hear from a modem's speaker. A modem on the other end of the line can understand it and convert the sounds back into digital information that the computer can understand.

A checklist for troubleshooting disconnect problems

Disable call waiting You may be able to disable call waiting on a touchtone line by placing *70 in front of the phone number. You may also disable call waiting in your dial-up settings.
Upgrade firmware, init strings, and drivers The firmware/driver is one of the most important factors in getting good 56k connections. Many disconnect problems can be solved by loading a more recent version of the firmware
Unplug any devices from the back of the modem Unplugging your telephone or any other device attached to the back of the modem. Some devices may cause problems. For instance, some telephones draw power from the phone line every 15 minutes to power the circuits that keep track of speed dial numbers.
Unplug other telephone equipment in the house It's possible to have too many devices on your phone lines or extension. Try unplugging extra phones, fax machines, and answering machines to see if the disconnects stop.
Unplug any cordless phones in the house It's possible that a cordless phone may cause too much drain on your phone line, even when it is not in use.
You may also try visiting these sites, they have great information on 56K modems, troubleshooting, tips for better connections, and much more.

3Com | Modem Troubleshooting | 56K = v.Unreliable | Modem Central

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