Those people, who are not computer geeks or experts (which is the majority of the population), are often reluctant to create a wish list of things they want from their ISP. Often a combination of intimidation, lack of confidence, and the perceived inability to ask the right questions, people sometimes accept whatever an ISP offers without protest.
However, as a user/purchaser, you have the right to get what you want when you're paying, whether it's an article of clothing, a new car, a bank account, or – a new Internet access provider. Internet access has often become just as important as TV, cell phones, auto insurance, interest rates, or any necessary product or service. Think about what you want, not what an ISP wants to give you. Ask these, and other questions, of yourself before you compare Internet service providers.
Questions to ask yourself when considering a new ISP
How fast would you like your Internet service to be?
This may sound like a computer geek question, but it's really a personal issue. You don't need to be a millisecond expert, a megabyte per second guru, or information technology executive to want fast downloads of pictures, videos, and web pages.
What level of customer service would you like?
Can you solve most problems by simply reading related frequently asked questions (FAQs)? Are you comfortable with using customer “forums,” enjoy using online chats with customer support, or do you want immediate telephone access to a live person?
How important is Internet access to you?
Do you need it 24/7/365 or are you a casual surfer when you have some spare time? Reliability and speed will be much more important if you need your ISP for work-related issues rather than just to set your fantasy baseball or football lineups, read the local news, or occasionally shop for gifts.
Important factors to evaluate when considering a new ISP
What communication speeds are offered and what are the related costs?
Communication speeds with the Internet are typically a function of the efficiency and capability of the hardware (servers) used by your ISP. Most contemporary ISPs have state-of-the-art servers that offer various speed levels. Part of your ISP comparison should be an analysis of the speeds offered and the monthly cost for each level. You can then decide, based on your usage, preference, and budget, which speed is best for you.
What is the reliability factor of the ISPs you're considering?
You should know the relationship with uptime/downtime issues with any ISP you might choose. Even the best, fastest, cheapest Internet access service will make you absolutely crazy if they are down on a regular basis.
How many e-mail accounts can you have?
If you're a single person who only uses your home e-mail occasionally, this may not be an important consideration. However, if your ISP functions in a home/family or small business environment, the ability to have multiple e-mail accounts with your service may be a critical component of your ISP comparison.
Is a longer-term contract with an ISP involved?
Much like cell phone companies, many ISPs now prefer contracts to month-to-month arrangements. But you should know what your price guarantees, if any, apply, and how much might it cost if you choose to terminate your Internet access with an ISP prior to the contract expiration. Are there penalties or buyout fees? How often can your ISP increase monthly Internet access fees?
What level of customer service does the ISP offer?
Are you required to read endless FAQs, use e-mail support, or speak with help desk personnel that have a limited command of the English language? Or can you have online chat help or reach live humans quickly and that are knowledgeable.
Most – if not all – of the major ISPs in the U.S. deliver the goods – at least, most of what they promise. No, it's not likely to be perfect, but you should be satisfied with most of the larger ISPs. Yet, it is important that you realize they are not all equal. Some have strengths in certain areas, but may be weaker in others.
Getting a good combination of reliability, speed, and reasonable cost should be your goal. A good rule: Assume nothing. Ask questions. Use the Internet and other impartial evaluations to learn the user reputations of different ISPs. When you read or hear people say one ISP is terrible or another is perfect, disregard both opinions. Get factual information and make informed decisions.