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Choosing Your Internet Provider

May 20, 2012Jon T. NorwoodInternet ServicesComments Off

Choosing an Internet service provider is actually more complicated than it looks. There are more types of service available today than ever before, and understanding how each work and what they bring to the table can be difficult. Add to this the various bundles, combo packs, and trendy buzzwords floating around in the market and the decision gets murkier. Before you choose an Internet service provider a few questions must be asked and some technical knowledge would be helpful. So below is not only an overview of the various types of Internet service available, but also what you need to know to choose what is best for you.

What’s Available?

The most important question you need answered is what you have available. This could make your decision very easy in fact, as some markets have only a single choice. If you are fortunate enough to live in an area with many choices then you will probably see the following:

  • Digital subscriber line (DSL)
  • Cable
  • Fiber Optic Broadband
  • Dial-Up

For a complete listing of services in your area visit Internet Providers.

How Fast are the Services?

The various Internet services available vary wildly in the speeds that they offer. When shopping for a provider it is important to realize that there are actually two different speeds that are listed; upload speed and download speed. These two different speeds are exactly what they sound like; upload is how fast you can send information from your computer to the Internet and download speed is how fast you can retrieve information from the Internet. It is common for the download speed to be a great deal faster than the upload speed. Here are common download speeds available:

Fiber-optic broadband - fiber optics are new enough that they are not available in every market. The primary providers of fiber optics are currently AT&T with their U-Verse offering and Verizon with FiOS. Up to 50 Mbps can be reached with this type of service. The faster the connection the more expensive the service.

DSL - digital subscriber line service is widely available. Up to 7 Mbps can be reached via DSL, but to get anywhere near this level a subscriber would have to be near the phone company’s central hub in their area. The further away the customer is from the hub, the slower the connection.

Cable - cable Internet has better market penetration than DSL and fiber optics. The cable networks themselves offer speeds ranging from 3 Mbps up to 20 Mbps. Some cable companies, such as Time Warner, offer business packages that can deliver up to 50 Mbps downloads. As with fiber optics, the faster the connection the more the service will cost. A unique problem to cable service is that more users in a given neighborhood on a given network can cause congestion and slow down speeds. Considering the speeds offered by cable companies, even at peak hours neighborhood congestion is often times unnoticeable.

Dial-up – dial-up Internet is still a commonly used service. Dial-up connections have a maximum speed of 56 Kbps and with how the Internet is today this can be intolerable. The slowest DSL connection is 20 times faster. Dial-up is a good substitute for nothing.

Questions to Ask

So how fast do you really need your connection be?

It’s great that you can get a fiber-optic connection that offers you up to 50 Mbps on downloads, but if all you’re doing is updating your Facebook account twice a day you might be overpaying. It’s important to understand what you need the Internet for, and how you are commonly using it. It is becoming more and more common for consumers to use the web in much the same way they used television 10 years ago. If you commonly stream video with services such as Netflix or Amazon Instant then that 50 Mbps connection might very well be worth it. Don’t buy more than you need.

So what’s it going to take to set up this Internet service?

Some promotional pricing available through service providers may come with a catch. You may be required to install the hardware in your house. If it’s just a question of plugging in a modem or running a cable then you might be willing to do it, but then again you might not. If you know little to nothing about Internet connections or computers in general this could be a daunting task and may create more problems than you want to deal with. It is also important to know if you are leasing or purchasing the equipment necessary to make the connection. Make sure you understand what you’re getting with your service and what is required of you in the set up process.

Is there a contract?

Most broadband services can come with an optional contract. This is more prevalent in instances of promotional offers. If a service provider is offering their blazing fast Internet at a price that you simply can’t believe, you may want to read the fine print. It is possible that they require you to sign a contract to get that promotional price. If you’re certain that this is the right service for you then clearly the contract isn’t a problem, but even if that is the case be sure that you understand the costs involved with changing your plan before the contract expires.

What security measures are included in your Internet service? 

These may include:

  • Antivirus
  • antispam
  • spyware protection
  • firewall

Security is a necessary component to safely use the Internet. Understand what your service provider is making available via the hardware you’re using and consider adding additional protection if you think it is necessary.

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About Jon T. Norwood

Jon T. Norwood is a managing partner and regular contributor for Web Exordium

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