Regardless if you use the Internet for work or online shopping from home your choice for an Internet Service Provider is important. Your ISP can mean the difference between a great experience and a frustrating one.
There are nearly 7,000 ISPs in the United States alone. Some are massive telecommunications conglomerates with user populations larger than many nations. Others are mom-and-pop operations that know every customer by first name.
How do you decide whether to use a traditional online service or an Internet service provider? Figuring out which is best for you involves asking the right questions, of both yourself and your provider.
The online services connect you to the Internet, so do ISPs. The big difference between the two is “content.” The online services provide proprietary content…and lots of it. Most ISPs provide very little original content, you must venture out yourself (onto the Web, Usenet, ect…) and find it.Once you choose your internet provider, its useful to know if they are able to deliver on their promises in terms of speed.
Not all ISPs are created equally. Some are very good, some are very bad. Here are some questions that you should ask of any potential ISP before you sign on the bottom line:
- What’s the cost? This may not be the most important factor but it’s a good place to start. Most ISPs charge around $20 a month. If you shop around you may find one for around $10 a month. Broadband cable may cost as much as $50 a month.
- Do they offer discounts if you prepay the entire year upfront? (This is a good option, providing that it fits into your budget, if you choose a good ISP. It’s a bad option if the ISP turns out to be less than desirable.)
- What modem speed do they support? Broadband? DSL? Dial-up? A good ISP will support 56K. You may not have 56K modem yourself but this will provide some indication of the commitment that this ISP is willing to make.
- Do they offer a free trial? Try-before-you-buy is always a good thing.
- What’s the ratio of modems to users? 6 to 8 users per modem is quite acceptable. Find out what number you would dial in on…and try it a few times.
- Does your call through or do you receive busy signals?
- How good is the customer support? Some will provide customer support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week…with a “800″ number. Most aren’ quite that good. Call their customer support number a few times before you decide to sign up. Take it as a bad sign if you frequently get a busy signal.
- Do they charge a “setup” fee? Some do…most don’t. If you live in a city with many ISPs find one that doesn’t charge you for the privilege of bring your business to them.
There are a few of ways to find Internet Service Providers in your area. We recommend Find An ISP. They list Internet Service Providers by city.
You may also wish to check out The List. They have a large listing of ISPs broken down by area code.