According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, consumer satisfaction for broadband providers, including both fixed and wireless internet, was historically low in 2015. This report highlights areas that customers have consistently not been happy with, such as coverage and price. Now more than ever, they are confused about which internet service provider is the best option.
What internet providers are available in my area? What factors are actually important when choosing a provider? These are just a few broad questions that stump consumers when choosing an internet service provider.
First and foremost, you need should clearly define your internet browsing needs. Although 25% of households across the U.S. only have one option for an ISP, the rest must consider numerous factors before settling. BroadbandSearch brings you a comprehensive guide to these considerations in hopes of making your search easier.
Understanding Internet Speeds
Most importantly, you must determine the internet speeds necessary to accommodate your browsing habits. Typically if you are looking for faster speeds, you will have fewer options for service providers. It is critical that when researching speeds, you observe the advertised speeds compared to your daily needs. Am I occasionally checking my emails, or do I plan streaming videos and play games? These are important questions to answer so you do not for speeds you aren't utilizing or so you have enough speed to browse freely.
What are Bytes and Bits?
When you research speeds for providers, they will typically be advertised in megabits per second (Mbps).
To help you understand better, picture a long line of ones and zeros: one bit is the equivalent of a single one or zero. Internet providers typically use bytes to describe available storage. One byte is equal to eight bits. In order to help organize bits, they are grouped together:
- 1 Kilobit (Kb) is equivalent to one thousand bits
- 1 Megabit (Mb) is equivalent to one thousand kilobits
- 1 Gigabit (Gb) is equivalent to one thousand megabits
What are Upload and Download Speeds
Most households have what is called an asymmetrical connection, meaning you receive faster download speeds than upload speeds. Downloading is when using the internet to consume content, such as streaming videos or online gaming. Uploading refers to when you send files over email or video call. Typically, an asymmetrical connection works best for most homes because, on average, most people download content more often than they upload.
A symmetrical connection is where you receive the same download and upload speeds. Some businesses prefer a symmetrical connection because they need the upload speeds for things such as video conferencing.
When making your choice, note that the advertised speeds are typically asymmetrical, and double-check that your plan's upload speeds meet your needs.
Sustained vs. Burstable Bandwidth
Burstable speed means the fastest speed that an internet service provider allows from your plan. However, you will only be able to access these speeds for certain windows of time. ISPs do this because delivering top speeds for long periods of time would max out their infrastructure to fast. With a burstable internet plan, you would only surf the internet when necessary.
Some say using burstable speeds is a marketing ploy because an ISP can inflate the speeds they advertise. They can advertise to you under a plan saying "available speeds of" a specific speed, but really your average daily speeds are slower. ISPs also use burstable speeds to advertise to businesses that might not need a continuous connection. Business owners might want to pay minute-by-minute fees because they know exactly when to use the internet.
Ping and Throughput: The real measures of speed
Bandwidth is not the factor affecting internet speeds and quality of connection. The primary measurements of internet speed are ping and throughput.
Ping, which is measured in milliseconds, indicates the amount of lag between a data request and the time it takes to get to the host server and back to your computer. Throughput is the quantity of data an information system can handle over a certain period of time.
If you are planning on using the internet for casual browsing, throughput is more important to consider. However, ping is a very important factor when trying to stream, video chat, or play online games.
Measuring ping can be a very difficult task because many factors affect it, such as location, time, and size of the network. In order to get ping measurements, try to conduct a speed test by using the internet of the people around you if they allow you. Refund guarantees are also important if a problem cannot be solved after 30 days.
Data caps and overage fees are highly debated topics amongst broadband providers. When looking for an internet service provider, these questions are important to find the answers to:
- What are my data limits?
- What happens if I exceed my limit?
ISPs do not always clearly state what the data limits, so it is important to your own research. Make sure you read the terms and conditions and ask your sales representative questions about the data caps.
There are two types of caps for service providers: hard data caps and soft data caps. Hard data caps are when you are directly fined, or your service is shut off for any overages, whereas soft caps are when you are only fined for the amount you go over. The soft overages are usually billed based 1GB or 50GB measures.
You should be aware of your internet service provider's overage conditions, even with soft caps. What seems like a fair trade from having your service shut off can result in crazy overage fees for customers that did not know their provider's coverage plan.
Should I Buy or Rent my Modem and Router
The next hurdle you face is the question of buying or renting your internet hardware. For less tech-savvy people, installing a modem or router can cause major stress, making renting a highly appealing option.
When you rent your modem or router from your ISP, most will send a technician to install it and set it up at no additional cost. However, this option loses its appeal when looking at the monthly rental fee, which ranges from $5 to $10. If you have a two-year contract, that adds up to a significant amount of money spent on just rental equipment.
Most service providers allow their customers to purchase third-party hardware. Although your upfront cost is greater than renting, your modem will pay for itself by year's end. When deciding whether to buy or rent, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I plan on moving soon? - this is an important question because not all ISPs are able to connect with every modem on the market.
- Do I have the ability to set up the modem on my own?
Taking a Closer Look at Contracts
When signing up with a new internet service provider, more often than not, you will be able to get the best deal when you sign a contract. Contracts are put in place to ensure all parties' interests are taken into account. When evaluating a contract, there are three main parts to consider: regular vs. promotional rates, early termination fees, and contract length.
Differences Between Promo and Regular Price
Most internet service providers offer first-time customers a promotional price when they sign a contract. These prices are often worth it as long you as you know the terms after the promotion ends. Ensure your ISP will not add additional fees or early terminations after the promotional period.
When finding the best deal between multiple providers, add up your total cost, including any promotional pricing. This comparison is important because each ISP has different promotional terms.
Length of Contract
Before you sign a contract of any length, ensure you understand any fees attached to early termination in case you move or decide to switch providers.
Also, be aware of any price increases during the time of your contract. Always read each monthly statement so you can catch any changes in the price of your plan, and do not be afraid to call your ISP if you see any unexpected price changes. Your provider wants to keep your business, so oftentimes, they will work with you to lower the price back down.
How to handle early termination fees
No one wants to get hit with early termination fees (ETFs) if they unexpectedly have to move to an area where they cannot transfer their service. ETFETF oftentimes can easily cost the same or more than your current contract.
If you feel that there the likelihood of you are moving in the near future is high, it is in your best interest to compare ISP that offer no-contract plans. If you feel better represented with a signed contract, a good rule is to negotiate terms that are the same length as your current lease.
There also might be a case where you want to terminate your contract because you are unhappy with your service. Contact the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and learn about your rights as a consumer before moving forward. Under the FCC, broadband is considered a utility, so it is important to document all issues if you wish to file a complaint. These steps might save you from paying exorbitant ETFs and maybe get your money back on your monthly service. However, complaints such as a temporality poor connection or bad customer service grounds do not warrant federal intervention.
The phrase you can't trust everything you read on the internet holds especially true when reading bad reviews about customer service. More times than not, customer service calls are easily resolved, but people will only take the time to review bad ones. Reviews are important information but don't draw conclusions about a service provider solely based on their reviews.
A convenience factor when comparing ISPs is if they offer 24/7 customer support. This way, when you are having your late binge-watching session, and your service is interrupted, you can get it quickly resolved.
When looking at different providers' plans, most give you the option to bundle and save money on your service. Package options include a combination of home phone, TV, and internet.
Most providers will let you have a single service or bundle two or three services together. It is important to consider your individual needs and fees associated with each bundle type before deciding. Make sure you are aware of the below-the-line fees, which means the price you pay is not the advertised price. Below-the-line fees are very common in most types of bundles. Review your monthly statement; do not hesitate to call about any unexpected charges. Most ISPs will negotiate with you to remove channels that you don't watch and lower your plan price each month.
What does all of this mean for you as a consumer?
Data caps and cord-cutting will continue to be long-debated topics in the broadband marketplace. However, healthy competition between ISPs will prove to be beneficial for consumers. Always continue to learn about new plans and pricing so that you are getting the best deal. BroadbandSearch provides you with a list of service providers, including the speeds they offer, data cap information, and up-to-date pricing. When searching for an internet service provider, double-check your findings with our information to confirm that the provider meets your needs.
What fees do I need to watch out for in my single service plan?
Single-service internet plans are usually more affordable and do not contain hidden fees. Pay attention to the length of your contract because you may still be able to negotiate to pay the promo price after your contract is up.
What are other considerations when comparing single service plans to a bundled plan?
Single service plans are more affordable than paying for a bundle. However, if you are a cord cutter (meaning you stream movies and shows instead of using cable), make sure you purchase a plan that will support your streaming needs. If your internet is too slow or you have data caps, you risk paying overages.
What is an isp hybrid plan?
Hybrid plans give customers a choice of combined services called Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) or Internet Protocol television (IPTV). VOIP groups together the delivery of telephone and internet. IPTV groups together the delivery of television and the internet.
What are other considerations when looking at a triple play bundle?
Triple-play bundles are great for people who wish to watch cable and have daily use of a landline for one affordable price. On the other hand, you only have one provider for three services, so in the event of a service failure, you lose TV, phone, and internet.
What is a double play from your internet service provider mean?
Double play means you are purchasing both internet and television services together.