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Educational Consumer Tips

Internet Service Providers

Author: Better Business Bureau

With thousands of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offering to connect you and your computer to the Internet, choosing the ISP that is right for you can be overwhelming. Some ISPs are very large and well known, while others are literally one person operations. Some companies strictly limit their service to providing Internet access. Others, like your telephone and cable company, may offer Internet access as part of a much larger package of services. If you have limited Internet expertise, you may want to start with one of the well-known ISPs. They usually offer software on a computer disk that helps you create your account and configure your computer. This software often include features such as a browser, instant messaging, parental controls, and pop-up blockers that let you get started with no need to install additional third-party software. There may also be 24-7 access to technical support people, who can help you deal with any difficulties. Of course, all of this convenience results in higher monthly user fees. Once you are comfortable with how the Internet works, you may discover you don't need all the 'extras' and switch to a lower-cost ISP.

Whatever your present level of expertise, you will want to consider these factors when selecting a provider. 1. Speed. For a dial-up modem, does the ISP provide a 56k connection maximum speed ordinary phone lines can handle? For a faster connection, you will have to consider moving up to "broadband Internet access" which lets you access the Internet via high-speed technologies such as a digital subscriber line (DSL), a cable modem, or satellite. 2. Availability. For dial-up service, is there a local phone number for access? If you travel, will there be local numbers or a toll-free number that you can call? 3. Modem Ratio. Since not all users are online at the same time, it is not necessary for an ISP to have a modem for every user. But they should have a user to modem ratio of 10 to 1 or better. The lower the number of users per modem, the better your chance of being able to connect at peak hours. 3. Email. How many email accounts come with the service? What will be the storage limit on your mailbox? How many days does the ISP keep your mail before deleting it? 4. Website Space. Do you want to create a personal website? If the answer is yes, find out whether your provider offers web space and software to create your page. 5. Software. Is there any software required to activate the service? How do you get it? How large is the software? Can you use whatever browser or email program you'd like? 6. Support. What kinds of support are available? Phone, email, chat, etc.? What are the hours of support? Are there any additional charges for support? 7. Special Features. What services are provided in terms of spam blocking, virus protection, and instant messaging and chat rooms? 8. Terms of Service. Is there a limit to the number of hours per month you can use the service? 9. Cost. What is the monthly fee for the service? Are there any additional equipment or setup fees? What is the fee for extra email accounts? For further information contact The Better Business Bureau at the toll free telephone number 1-800-273-1002 or the local telephone number 414-847-6000.