How to Choose an Internet Service Provider

Posted under: Blog and Internet

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 couple 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 of these considerations in hopes to make your search easier.

Understanding Internet Speeds

Most importantly, you must determine what internet speeds are necessary to accommodate your browsing habits. Typically if you are looking for faster speeds you are going to have less 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 playing 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 to 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 use 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 speeds as 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 you plans upload speeds meet your needs.

Sustained vs. Burstable Bandwidth

Burstable speed means the fastest speeds 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 their 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 who might not need a continuous connection. Business owners might potentially want to pay minute-by-minute fees because they know exactly when they need 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 measured in milliseconds, indicates amount of lag between a data request, the time it takes to get to the host server, and back to your computer. Throughput is the quantity of data that an information system is able to 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, when trying to stream, video chat, or play online games, ping is a very important factor.

Measuring ping can be a very difficult task because there are a number of factors that affect it such as location, time, and size of network. In order to get a ping measurements, try to conduct speeds test by using the internet of the people living around you if they allow you. Refund guarantees are also an important factor if a problem cannot be solved after 30 days.

Data Caps

Data caps and overage fees are highly debated topics amongst broadband providers. When looking for an internet service provider, these question are important to find the 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 where you are only fined for the amount you go over. The soft overages are usually billed based 1GB or 50GB measures.

Even with soft caps, you should be aware of your internet service provider's overage conditions. 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 those of us who are less tech savvy, installing a modem or router can cause major stress, which makes renting a highly appealing option.

When you rent your modem or router from you ISP, most will send a technician to install it and set it up at no additional cost. However, this option loses its appeal when you look at the monthly rental fee, which ranges from $5-$10. If you have a two year contract, that adds up 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 years 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 modems on the market.
  • Do I have the ability to setup 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 make sure all parties interests are taken into account. When evaluating a contract, there three main parts to consider: regular vs. promotional rates, early terminations fees, and length of contract.

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. Make sure your ISP is not going to 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, make sure you first understand any fees that are 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 often times, 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 area when they are not able to transfer their service. ETFETF often times 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 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. Taking these steps might save you from paying exorbitant ETFs and maybe get you money back on your monthly service. However, complaints such as a temporality poor connection or bad customer service ground do not warrant federal intervention.

Customer Service

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 an important piece of information but don't draw conclusions on 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.

Comparing Plans

When look at different plans that providers offer, most give you an 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 you have a single service or bundle two or three services together. It is important to consider your individual needs as well as fees associated with each type of bundle before making a decision. 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 and do not be afraid 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.

Single Service

What is a single service plan?

Single service means you are just paying for internet.

What fees do I need to watch out for in my single service plan?

Single service internet plans usually do not contain any hidden fees and are more affordable. Pay attention to the length of your contract because you still may be able to negotiate paying the promo price after your contract is up.

What are 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.

Bundling Two Services

What is a double play bundle?

Double play means you are purchasing both internet and television services together.

What fees do I need to watch out for in my double play bundle?

If you use a set-top box such as an Amazon Fire Stick or Roku it is important to note you more than likely will not have unlimited streaming. However, with broadband TV you will have unlimited access to content.

What are other considerations when looking at a double play bundle?

If you enjoy watching cable TV, purchasing a double play package is a better option. However, if you plan on streaming a significant amount of content, it might be better to purchase a single internet service.

Bundling Three Services

What is a triple play bundle?

Triple play means you are purchasing internet, phone, and TV all under one plan for one price.

What fees do I need to watch out for in my triple play bundle?

When considering a triple play bundle, below-the-line fees are going to be your biggest concern because ISPs cut costs the most when selling triple plays.

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 to 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.

Choosing a Hybrid Plans

What is a 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 internet.

What fees do I need to watch out for in my hybrid plan?

There little to no hidden fees in hybrid plans.

What are other considerations when looking at a hybrid plan?

VOIP and IPTV are still vulnerable to all the same issues as a traditional plan, such slow speeds at heightened use times.

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 which includes the speeds they offer, data cap information, and up-to-date pricing. When you are searching for a internet service provider, make sure to double check your findings with our information to confirm that provider meets your needs.