By: John Michael PierobonJohn Michael Pierobon is an Internet consultant based in Fort Lauderdale.
Several factors should be taken into consideration when making the choice about an Internet Service Provider (ISP), including: price, points of presence (POP), modem to subscriber ratio, equipment, technical support, file types they support, and web presence.
Notice that I did not include experience. Asking an ISP how long they have been in business is not relevant, since Internet years are like dog years. Florida's oldest ISP got started towards the end of 1993. If it were a person, it would not be old enough to be in first grade.
Since money talks, let me address the pricing issue. You should pay between US$14.95 a month and US$21.95 a month for unlimited basic Internet access which should include a PPP (point to point protocol) account, a licensed copy of browser software, at least one e-mail address, and two to ten Mbytes of disk space to store files or have a personal web page. An ISP cannot make money at US$14.95 per month, so be aware that some of the US$14.95 monthly fees are introductory and after six months jump to US$19.95. Some ISP offer a fixed number of hours per month for US$9.95. Because surfing on the Internet can be so much fun, you can easily exceed that fixed number of hours and end up paying more than the unlimited rate.
An ISP cannot make money at US$14.95 per month, so be aware that some of the US$14.95 monthly fees are introductory and after six months jump to US$19.95. Some ISP offer a fixed number of hours per month for US$9.95. Because surfing on the Internet can be so much fun, you can easily exceed that fixed number of hours and end up paying more than the unlimited rate.
A PPP account is one where you actually do not log into the ISP's computer. When you make the connection to the ISP, it authenticates you via your user name (or user ID) and password, and connects you to the Internet. Your computer has to do all the work.
With AOL the connection is slightly different in that you are not truly connected to the Internet. Instead you are connected to the AOL internal network, and it is through an AOL proxy server that you access the Internet.
AOL also gives you five screen names, or five different e-mail addresses with one account. This is nice if you want everyone in the family to have their own private address.
A very good question to ask your ISP is "What is your subscriber to modem ratio?" At one time AOL had a 40 to 1 ratio, and that got them in trouble with several state governments. AOL has corrected that problem, but you should still ask the question because a ratio of 15 to 1 says you will encounter busy signals, a ratio of 12 to 1 indicates you may encounter an occasional busy signal, and a ratio of less than 8 to 1 tells you they are losing money.
And if they are losing money they cannot upgrade their equipment. So if you do not want to come right out and ask them if they are losing money, ask them if all their modems are V.90 compliant and if they connect at 56 Kbps. Old modems are not V.90 compliant and connect at slower speeds such as 28.8 Kbps and 33.6 Kbps.
I know of one ISP that has 56 Kbps, but not at the POP where I connect. Again a POP is a point of presence. For practical purposes a POP is a toll-free, local access telephone number you would dial into. When I go on vacation, my computer stays home, but if you travel with your computer, you might want to go with an ISP that has a POP everywhere you travel.
The true test of the quality of service of your ISP is their technical support staff. Before deciding which ISP to go with, call and ask to speak with their technical support. Find out if they are courteous, knowledgeable, responsive, and if they call you back. Also, ask them if they have a trouble ticket system to keep track of your problem.
Another question to ask your potential new ISP is whether they have recently been bought out or if they have plans of merging with another company. If the answer is yes, this will affect the stability of the company because policies and practices, as well as product offerings will change. For example, they may no longer support a certain file type, or you may need to change your e-mail address.
Some ISP limit the size and types of files you can receive. They impose these limits for three main reasons: competitive, capacity, capability. At the beginning of the 1998 Christmas season, the Microsoft Network decided to block animated greeting cards like the ones Blue Mountain Arts produces because Microsoft wanted to launch their own electronic greetings offering.
Some ISP will block files that are larger than a certain size, say 16 Mbytes because downloading such a large file takes up too much of their bandwidth capacity. You need to ask your ISP if they have such a limit and what it is set at. While 16 Mbytes is probably reasonable, a limit of 2 Mbytes will prevent you from downloading many software files, and movie clips. Other ISP may not have the capability of handling special type of files such as audio, So you would not be to have Internet radio.
Perhaps, some day, you might want to have your own home page on the World Wide Web. Your ISP should allow you to have some disk space for a small Web site. While most will let you have a home page, they may not let you have audio. So find out what are the limitations they impose on Web sites.
The Internet is like the wild wild west, so the saying "buyer beware" still holds true.
© 1999 - 2011 John Michael Pierobon