An Internet service provider (ISP) offers its customers access to the Internet. The ISP connects to its customers using various high-speed data transmission technologies such as DSL, DOCSIS, or wireless.
DSL, short for Digital Subscriber Line, employs an unused portion of your telephone line, so there's no need to install another one in your home or office. The service, which is typically provided by your local phone company, costs from US $15 to $50 monthly for residential customers. Since DSL service is delivered over a dedicated line, bandwidth is not shared with other subscribers as with cable. But connection speeds, ranging from 128 Kbps to 8 Mbps, depend on your distance from the local exchange. The maximum distance is about three miles. If you live further than that, you can't hook up to DSL. Those living closest to the local exchange enjoy the fastest speeds.
DOCSIS, short for Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification, employs an unused portion of your cable TV line. Your cable TV provider may offer Internet access for an additional fee, typically US $20 to $50 monthly, depending on the plan. Internet from your cable TV provider can be speedy, ranging from 512 Kbps to 20 Mbps, but depending on how the cable system is configured, speed may decrease if many subscribers in your neighborhood are online at the same time.
This relatively new service delivers speedy Internet access via radio waves via WiFi or 3G/4G/1 Gig service is typically used in private wireless networks in homes, offices and in public places like airports or cafes. 3G/4G data service for Internet access is usually available anywhere where a smartphone works. To access the wireless network with a laptop or PC, you need a wireless card that matches the type of network you want to connect with. The good news is that most relatively new computers and laptops come with a WiFi card, but few have built in 3G/4G cards. If your device does not have a built-in wireless card, the provider typically will sell them. Wireless can cost anywhere from $10 to $120 amonth depending on location and speed. Free WiFi spots are often found in libraries, government offices, restaurants and cafes.
If you purchase cable or DSL Internet service for your home, ask if your modem will have WiFi, too. If it does, you can set up a local wireless network in your home, allowing you to use your computing devices from anywhere in your home.
The following chart outlines the time required to transmit and receive popular media files using Dial-up versus two common residential broadband services.
|Access Technology||One 4x6 photo
|One MP3 song
|Music CD in MP3
|ADSL 2||0.25 second,
|DOSCIS 2||0.17 second,
Questions you should Ask
Same as with entering into any contract you should always read the fine print and understand the terms of service. As long as you work with a well known carrier, the customer service representatives are usually helpful and will educate you on your options for a plan that can work best for you.
However, it’s still a good idea to shop around to find the best deal. Below are some good questions to ask yourself and the Internet Service Provider (ISP), to guide your purchasing decision. Also keep in mind the provider’s website can be a good resource for finding out the answers to these questions.
- First discuss how you and your household plan to use the Internet. Will you be using the web primarily for emails and light web surfing or do you plan to stream movies, listen to Internet radio, play games or place video calls? Knowing how you will use the Internet can save you money, so that you’re not paying for extra speed you won’t need.
- If you currently have a home phone and/or cable or satellite television, check to see who your provider also offers Internet. Many companies offer all three services and can bundle them together for a better rate. If you don’t have any of these services but are thinking of purchasing them, speak with a provider that can offer you a bundled package.
- To find what ISPs are available in your area you have a couple options. You can ask your landlord, neighbors, colleagues or friends in the area for who they use, or do a search online at http://www.internetserviceproviders.org/.
- When you speak to the ISP, ask what the system requirements are for instillation, such as make, model, and year of computer and operating system. We provided a guide here, but it’s still a good idea to check with each ISP as their requirements will vary depending on the services they offer.
- If a provider offers multiple Internet services, find out what the advantages and disadvantages of each are. Based on the area you live in, one might be faster, more dependable, or less expensive.
- Ask if there are any deals in your area. Many service providers run deals that lower the monthly cost, but usually require you to sign a 1 to 2 year contract. Ask how long you can test the service and cancel without penalty.
- Ask if you have to sign a contract, and if so, find out the terms, specifically the length of the contract and what fees are associated with canceling the service early or changing service plans within the time of the contract or moving service to a new address.
- Ask what additional fees you will incur beyond the monthly charge. Most likely there will be a one-time set-up fee (typically around $20) and some will charge a one-time equipment fee for the modem (this may be refundable upon end of service). Also ask if they will waive or lower the installation fee or the modem fee.
- Some service providers offer built-in protection from viruses, worms, and spyware, which won’t replace software on your computer; but it’s worth asking about, as it can provide added protection for your computer from the back end. Additionally, ask about parental control solutions offered from the ISP as many of them offer these services for free as well.
- Lastly, find out what customer support is offered. You want to make sure you can call for support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in your preferred language and for no additional cost.