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PC911 > How-To > Internet > Choosing an Internet Service provider (ISP)

- Alex -

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Choosing an Internet Service Provider can be a difficult decision. There are a lot of factors involved that can and should influence your decision. But not always do you think of all those factors, just to find out that after you made a choice, there is something that you don't like about the new ISP. Or you might not be aware of all the choices you have. This tutorial should help you make a more educated decision about what ISP to choose.

First of all, let's make a check list of all the things that you should take into consideration:

  • Speed

    How fast do you need your Internet access to be? What access speed can the ISP provide? Is it consistent?
    This information you can get directly from the ISP.
    (For more information on what data speed is and how it is measured, click here)

  • Reliability

    How reliable is the service? Are they always available or do they have frequent down times?
    This information is a little harder to get since the ISP naturally does not want to admit that they have frequent problems. For this question you should turn directly to users of the ISP. Ask people that use this provider about their experience, either in person or in Newsgroups online.

  • Price

    How expensive is the service? Do they have a plan for unlimited access for one monthly fee? How much is it and how does it compare to other ISPs?

  • Other Fees

    Are there any other charges, such as a one-time setup fee?

  • Other Perks

    Besides the Internet access, what else is included in the plan? Do you get free web space so you can create your own little home page? If so, how much, 5MB, 10MB? How many e-mail addresses do you get? Just one or more?

  • 24/7 Tech Support

    Do they have Tech Support? If so, when are they available? Just Monday through Friday, 9-5? Or 24 hours, seven days a week? And how can you reach support? By fax, e-mail, phone?

  • Modem-to-user ratio

    This means how many modems do they have available for you to dial in and how many users do they have that will use those modems? A good ratio is 4:1, meaning that they have 1 modem for every 4 subscriber they have. Since it is very unlikely that every single customer they have will log on at the exact same time, this is a good number. An average ratio would be 8:1, meaning 1 modem for every 8 subscribers. Anything over 14:1 is too high and you should stay away from it, as your chances to successfully dial in on the first attempt are getting pretty low.
    Just as a little note: At one point not too long ago AOL's modem-to-user ratio was 30:1 ! I don't know what the current ratio is, though. Supposedly it is better now.

  • Local Access numbers

    Do they have a local access number that does not cost you any phone charges each time you dial in? Preferably, they would have multiple numbers that are local for you so you have a backup option.

This list covers just the most important questions you should find answers for before making a decision. Since this is a lot of data, I suggest creating a spreadsheet to document this for each ISP that you consider to give you a nice overview.

Next, let's take a look at the different types of Internet access you can get.

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