Learn how to decipher your options when comparing Internet service providers in the US.
It’s hard to imagine life before the Internet. It powers businesses, allows for instant communication with friends and family and eases binge-watching the latest hot TV shows.
But how do you compare your options to find a service that’s best for your situation? Learn the basics of Internet service providers before making a choice.
What types of Internet services are out there?
Depending on your location, you could have the option of:
- DSL (Digital Subscriber Line). DSL uses existing copper phone lines in buildings to rapidly transmit information. Speeds vary from hundreds of Kbps to over 1 Mbps.
- Cable modem. This service uses the same coaxial cables that deliver cable TV to provide broadband access. You can watch cable TV while browsing the Internet on a connected computer.
- Fiber-optic. Also called Fios, this fastest option converts electrical signals into light to send data over glass lines as thin as a strand of hair. If it’s available in your area, you can reach download speeds of up to 300 Mbps.
- Satellite. With this service, your provider sends the Internet to a dish installed at your home. It can be expensive, but satellite is popular in rural areas, where DSL or cable is more expensive to provide. Speeds are slightly slower than cable and DSL and can be negatively affected by the weather.
- Cellular 3G and 4G. While ideal for Internet on the go — for instance, on your phone or tablet — 3G and 4G networks are not idea for regular home Internet service. You’re also subject to overage charges, depending on your plan.
How do I compare services?
To decide which service provider is right for you, here’s what you’ll want to research.
- Speed. Some providers offer better download and upload speeds. If you plan on using the Internet for entertainment or cloud services to store a lot of data, you’ll need higher speed.
- Reliability. Internet outages can ruin your day. Research whether sure your service provider has a proven record online.
- Monthly costs. Plans range from about $14 a month to more than $80 a month. Compare the many monthly plans each service provides, and find out whether automatic payments are an option.
- Contract options. You could save by bundling broadband with your cable or phone service. Some providers even offer lower-income options.
- Terms of service. Confirm whether your company requires you to commit to a contract — and how it charges if you break that contract.
- Add-ons. Bonus services offered by providers include free email accounts with limited storage, antivirus software, and video and other on-demand services. These perks could help you decide between two otherwise similar providers.
- Customer support. Look for 24/7 support by phone or live chat, as well as whether you can access help pages online.
What should I look out for?
Because choosing an Internet service provider is a commitment, making the wrong choice could lead to wasted money and time. Research how your service handles the following:
- Uptime guarantees. Check for rankings of provider speed tests, and keep an eye out for providers that offer credits for downtime.
- Availability. Fiber-optic service isn’t available everywhere. If you’re in a rural area, satellite might be your best option.
- Equipment. Review the quality of modems and other equipment provided by the company. To save money, ask whether you can use your own modem.
- Additional costs. Aside from monthly fees, look into installation costs, equipment costs, annual increases and contract terms.
How can I save money as a current customer?
If you’re looking to save money as an existing customer of your provider, there are a few ways to take action:
- Track your usage. See how much bandwidth you’re using in a week or month to see if you’re paying for a faster service than you need.
- Ask for a better deal. Maybe your provider recently increased its rates or you’ve received a flyer for a cheaper service. Let your provider know, and you could find that it’s willing to work with you to keep your business.
By comparing the options available in your area, you’ll can land a provider with a plan that works for your needs.