Questions to Ask When Shopping for an Internet Service Provider
Be a savvy shopper when you look for an Internet access account. Review
your needs and don't be shy to ask questions. Locate potential service
providers locally with TheList.com
Ask some basic questions about their service:
- Are individual home accounts a major focus of your business?
All different types of groups provide Internet access,
including corporations of all sizes, not-for-profit companies, universities,
telephone companies, and more. Internet access may not be the main
service. Some ISPs target an audience of primarily business users.
Look for a provider who emphasizes its access services and
is focused on the type of user you are. Look for a provider who
has been in business for a reasonable length of time (you want
to be sure they will be here tomorrow).
Find out how many accounts they are maintaining, and what is
their ratio of modems or access points to users. The more access
points per user, the better. Ask how frequently users get bumped
in mid-session or fail to get in at all.
- Where are your service points?
You definitely don't want to pay long-distance phone
charges for dialup access. Perhaps you want cable or DSL. Perhaps you travel frequently and want to go online while you travel. You may want wireless service, rather than
the traditional hardwired service.
Look for a provider within local phone call reach, or who
provides a toll-free call when traveling. Look also for a provider
who duplicates equipment at major sites, for reliability and
redundancy. Ask about backup systems for when the network fails.
NOTE: An access site is also called a Point of Presence,
or POP for short.
- What software and/or hardware will you provide?
Look for a provider who will give you a complete package
of the software you will need to connect to and use the service.
Software bundles may include a World Wide Web browser, an email
package, and software which allows you to Telnet, FTP (transfer
files from computer to computer), and more. The software you need
may depend on which services you buy.
What kind of flexibility does the provider offer; for example,
can you choose any Web browser you want?
Some providers now offer free computers if you sign up for access,
or even free access and hardware. The catch is that you agree
to be exposed to their on-screen advertising.
- What service plans and prices do you offer?
Think about what services you need (an email account
for the family; homepage space; chat options; simple graphical Web
access; etc.). Think about how many hours per month you might spend
on the service. What is available in your area and how fast a connection
can you afford (cable, DSL, basic phone dialup, wireless)? Ask the
provider for a complete rate chart showing service options and pricing.
Note that local ISPs tend to be much cheaper than online services
if you are a heavy user.
How long is your membership commitment? Most services will work
with you on a per-month basis. You may be able to save money with
a 6-12 month contract, but consider whether you need more flexibility
at the higher per-month rate. If you are uncertain about your
needs or the performance of the vendor, it's best to spend a few
months at a per-month rate while you assess your long-term needs
or the vendor's performance.
How long will it take to set up your account?
Are there ever any extra assessments or fees that aren't part
of the basic plan, such as fees for transferring files or receiving
- Are there any special rules or restrictions on use?
Some providers charge according to the time of day access
is used. Some providers have policies about "acceptable use"
or restrictions on what materials can be mounted on personal pages.
Some providers do not provide access to certain parts of the Internet.
Sometimes providers also impose rules linking an account to a single
individual, as opposed to "family plan" accounts.
- Can you provide some references?
See if the provider is willing to give you the names
of some satisfied customers.