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56k modem and 9600 baus serial port

Just a curiousity I've always been unsure about.  I used to have a 56k modem.  (Years ago)  I never understood how a serial port-connected modem can communicate at 56k (theoretical) with another modem and transfer this data to my OS and applications at around 56k.  But, if I were to connect two computers via serial cable, the maximum connect speed was 9600 baud.  Obviously the mechanism for sending 56k data thru the serial port is there.  
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Don Johnston
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