Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can vary greatly – too many people put up with poor customer service, reliability or slow broadband speeds because they cannot get decent help from their ISP, are afraid to switch or lack the information to make an informed decision.
Before choosing (or switching to) a new ISP, it is important to find the best ISP for you. Based on our experience of broadband suppliers, consider the following – in this order:
1. Customer Service and Tech Support – Often the last thing people consider – even when they want to switch because of appalling customer service from their current ISP, go figure… Why is this at the top of our list? Because an Internet Service Provider with excellent customer service and tech support can resolve issues in a helpful and speedy manner. Whether you need to upgrade your package, query a bill or report a fault, a good ISP can make the process painless compared to the bleeding eyeballs you will suffer with some…
We have also found that an ISP with good support invariably provides good reliability, speed and features too – bad support almost always means bad service all round with corners cut on their broadband network. Some factors to consider include:
A. Has the ISP offshored their support to another country (e.g. India)? We have nothing against foreign call center workers but, with technical issues, it is essential to communicate very clearly with customers – and whatever ISPs promise, this is rarely the case with offshoring.
Proof if you need it: offshoring is almost always reserved for support of existing customers – if you call an ISP’s sales team they won’t be based abroad, they will use local, well trained staff – because the sales people want you (and your cash) as a new customer and know that is by far the best way to get it!
Look at the ISP adverts – most will trumpet domestic support if available as it is a big plus point with savvy customers. If in doubt, ring their tech support number a few times and see how they answer – would you feel confident in their ability to deal with your query?
B. Is tech support free? Check if the ISP provides a free phone number for tech support – if you have to pay premium call rates it could prove very expensive for you to make them fix what may be their problem.
C. Is support available via multiple channels? Ideally, support and customer service will be available 24/7 via different channels e.g. phone, email, website ‘ticket’ system or online ‘help assistant’ – for basic requests, raising a ticket or sending an email would be your easiest and preferred way to communicate so you don’t have to queue on the phone.
2. Reputation and Reliability – Look online for reviews, comparisons and horror stories – some countries have excellent consumer magazines that publish annual surveys on ISPs. Another place to look is the ISP’s website to see if they have a ‘service status’ page showing any current issues affecting their broadband network – if they haven’t what have they got to hide?
Tip: if you know a good local computer repair tech, ask him which ISP he uses and which he recommends – they are usually the same. PC repair techs deal with different ISPs and internet connections every day so they know all too well which have poor support and lots of network problems in their area. And, as their computer repair business may depend totally on broadband, if they ever found an ISP better than their current one they would have switched to it like a shot!
3. Speed – By now you should have a shortlist of ISPs so check for differences in the advertised speeds – note that the biggest variation will actually be determined by the type of broadband available so make sure you compare like with like e.g. ADSL (phone line) is usually slower than cable and fiber-optic. There is not usually much difference between ISPs offering ADSL as speeds are dictated more by the phone line itself than the ISP. However, cable and fiber-optic services can vary hugely in speed and price so consider what speed you need.
As a guide, most websites will function with a minimum speed of 1mbps but you need at least 2mbps to watch streaming online video e.g. YouTube without problems. And if you have 2 computers you would need a speed of at least 4mbps for both to watch YouTube simultaneously. Two to 24mbps is typical for ADSL whereas cable and fiber-optic can go up to 100mbps and beyond.
4. Features – Check which features are included (or available as an upgrade) – do you need multiple email addresses, webmail access, personal web space, a wireless router or security suite included?
The most important feature to compare is how much you are allowed to download per month – this will impact the price and is measured in Gigabytes (GB) per month. 10GB per month should let you browse the internet, send and receive a few thousand emails, view a few hours of YouTube and download a couple of hundred songs but you may need more if you are a keen downloader, watch a lot of online video or have multiple computers.
Tip: if you’re not sure how much you need, ask your current ISP how many GB you have downloaded per month for the last few months – that will give you a good idea of your typical usage so you can plan accordingly.
But what about the price? It’s the first (and only) thing some people consider – which helps keep computer repair techs in business Fortunately, the broadband market in most countries is very competitive so the difference between the best and worst ISPs may be only a few dollars per month – not much compared to the benefits of a good internet connection which all your computer/game/phone devices may rely on…
Broadband has become so essential to the lives of many of us that it is vital to get the best possible bang for your buck which means keeping your eye on the market – what may have been a good ISP/deal a couple of years ago may not be so good now as others have caught up or surpassed it.
As with any service, the most expensive is not necessarily the best but the cheapest is very often the worst – if all else is equal, go for the cheaper of two ISPs but do ask the questions in this guide to ensure you get the best Internet Service Provider for you.