Not all ISPs are created equal. Before choosing an ISP or switching to a new provider, it is important to consider how the different ISPs available to you can meet your needs. The following tips will help you make an educated decision instead of just jumping into a service agreement with an ISP that has glittering bells and whistles.
Before choosing among your options, take the time to do the research. First answer these simple questions, which you can then use as a guide to making an informed choice of an ISP:
- How often will you be using the Internet, either daily or monthly? ISPs typically charge users either a flat monthly rate or charge users based on the amount of time they spend using the service per hour or per day, and some ISPs offer the choice of choosing between those two options. If you are going to be using the Internet for business, for example, and know that you will be spending a large portion of every day on the Internet, then a monthly fee platform will probably be your best option. If, however, you know that you only will be using the Internet sporadically (to check your e-mail or pay your bills), it may be cheaper to pay the per-hour rate.
- What times of the day will you be using the Internet? Some ISPs offer different rates depending on whether you use the service during peak hours and off-peak hours.
- Do you need Web space to create your own site? Many ISPs offer their customers a finite amount of Web space either as an add-on to the normal service fee or as part of their normal fee package. If hosting your own site is a necessity, investigate the different prices and the amount of megabytes that the ISP will allot you, along with the prices of this service.
- How much technical support will you need? Different ISPs have different levels of customer support. Some only offer online support for certain hours a day, others have 24-hour support and have telephone lines dedicated to answering customer support questions. Consider how likely you are to need support, and pay attention to the fees that are involved in actually using the ISPs support services, because there typically will be some sort of fee involved in speaking to customer support staff. Is the phone number for tech support a toll call? If so, you will be paying the phone company for the phone call in addition to paying the ISP for the support help.
- Do you understand the ISPs terms? Look at the agreement terms of the ISP. Is the service provider attempting to make the terms easy to understand, or do the terms seem confusing?
- How much flexibility does the ISP allow? Some ISPs require that the customer use their e-mail applications and browsers (referred to as a "suite of services"), while others allow more freedom and flexibility to the customer.
- How much data storage capacity do you have? All ISPs require their customers to install software on their computers to allow the customer to interface with the service. Find out how much software an ISP will require you to install, as this data will take up space on your computer. Not all ISPs require the same amount of software. As a general rule, the more services the ISPs provides, the more complex the software will be.
- How much are you willing to pay? As a general rule, the cheaper the deal, the less you are going to get, whether that be in connection speed, amount of services in the suite of services that the ISP offers or the amount of technical support the ISP provides. In today's Internet climate, the cheaper services typically supplement customer revenue with ad revenue, so the customer will be bombarded with ads when using the service, thereby keeping the cost of service low but, to some, annoying because of the influx of advertisements. Also, are there one-time set up fees associated with the service? Is the ISP offering any promotions that you can take advantage of?
The old standby, "If it looks too good to be true, it probably is," definitely applies here. Be wary of deals that seem to offer more worth than what you are paying for. There may be drawbacks or fine print that are going to alter your Internet experience.
- What kind of Internet connection are you using? Are you using a phone line for connection? A cable line? ISPs that you connect to through a phone line require you to dial into a phone number for connection, so if you have to pay for a toll call to get into the service, you are not only paying the ISP for the service but also the phone company for making a toll call.
- Do you want/need "value-added" services? Some ISPS offer services such as spam blocking and virus protection, at additional costs. Also investigate whether or not the service puts a cap on the size of e-mails you are able to send using the service.
- What connection speeds does the ISP support and what do you need? Determine how fast you need the connection to be, and look at whether or not the ISP can support the speed you need. For example, if you need to FTP large data files across the Internet in a short amount of time, you need a connection with broadband speeds, but if you are only going online to pay your monthly bills, then you probably don't need to pay for high-speed connections.
- Is there a length-of-service contract? Some ISPs require that you sign up for the service for a specific amount of time, like two years, and if you cancel the contract before the time is up you will be charged a fee for ending the contract early.
- Does the ISP have a spam policy? Some ISPs have strict spam policies that prohibit its customers from spamming. If you are concerned about receiving spam, find out how the ISP treats spam and also do some checking to find out if the ISP actually does take action against spammers or is just claiming to do so.
- What are your friends/colleagues using? Ask around. Unless they work for one of the ISPs, they will give you honest opinions and can help you in making the final decision.
Last updated: July 30, 2003
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