Choosing an Internet Provider

The choice for an Internet Service Provider (ISP) is important regardless of whether a person uses the Internet for work or online shopping from home. The Internet provider 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 is the decision made whether to use a traditional online service or an Internet service provider? Figuring out which is best for each particular situation involves asking the right questions, of both the user and the provider.

Not all ISPs are created equally. Some are very good and some are very bad. Here are some questions that could be asked of any potential Internet provider before signing on the bottom line:

  • What's the cost? This may not be the most important factor but it is a good place to start. Most ISPs charge around $20 a month. There are some that charge more like $10 a month. Broadband cable may cost around $50 a month.
  • Is a discount offered if the entire year is prepaid? (This is a good option, providing that it fits into the user's budget and if the choice is 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. Even though the user may not have a 56K modem, this provides some indication of the commitment that this Internet provider is willing to make.
  • Do they offer a free trial? “ Try-before-you-buy” is always a good thing.
  • What is the ratio of modems to users? Six to eight users per modem are quite acceptable. Find out the telephone number needed to dial up and try it a few times. Does the call go through or are there often busy signals?
  • What software does the Internet provider supply? What software is needed? Is there an extra charge if the ISP supplies the software? (Most of the software required can be obtained via the Internet.)
  • How good is the customer support? Some will provide customer support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week—with an "800" number. Most aren't quite that good. Call the customer support number a few times before signing up. Take it as a bad sign if there is frequently a busy signal.
  • Is a "setup" fee charged? Some do, most don't. In a city with many ISPs, it will most likely be possible to find one that doesn't charge customers a setup fee.

Users can find several ways to locate Internet Service Providers in their area. There are websites that list Internet providers by city / area code. Local telephone directories are another source of Internet providers.

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