Are some ISP’s better than others? Which are more reliable? Can you help us?
We are thinking of going to another ISP.
Absolutely, some ISPs are much better than others.
With one exception, I can’t make a specific recommendation, but I can
definitely offer some suggestions on what to look for when shopping around.
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First lets look at the various types of ISPs:
Multi-Service Providers like AOL or MSN premium – services
that provide you not only with connectivity, but with their own software and
premium content. In the past they’ve provided dialup, and now also often
partner with some of the companies below to provide broadband connectivity as
Telephone Companies like Qwest, Verizon, BellSouth and the
like. Since these folks provide you the phone line into your home, they’ve been
quick to offer ISP services in support of their DSL offering that uses those
Cable, Satellite and Cellular Companies like Comcast,
HughesNet, Verizon Wireless and many others. These companies all provide the
physical connectivity over cable, satellite or your cellular phone. In these
cases they also act as your ISP for this connection.
National ISPs like Earthlink or PeoplePC. Once again, these
folks offer dialup, and conveniently nationwide, but can also provide you with
the ISP services for your DSL broadband as well.
Regional ISPs exist in many communities, and are often a
great value. They operate in many ways like the larger national ISPs, but
within a more limited region.
Each has its strengths and weaknesses.
Next, you need to understand yourself.
If you’re a complete neophyte, you’re going to want a service that places
ease of use and solid customer support over everything else. Does any software
that’s included make sense to you? If you call the customer support line, (go
ahead and do so before you commit – see what happens), do you get a person or a
machine? With all due respect to anyone who speaks with any accent – can you
understand them? Can they understand you? Are they genuinely helpful, or just
following a script? AOL is often recommended as a good place to start because
it’s proprietary software is apparently supposed to be very friendly for new
and inexperienced computer users.
If you’re a little bit more knowledgeable, services like AOL can become
more annoying than useful. You may want an ISP that’s solid
about performance without a lot of that hand holding. I left my previous ISP because
they refused to deal with me on my terms – they insisted on following the
beginners script each time I called. That may well be appropriate for some, but
if you know it’s not for you, then find an ISP you can talk to on your terms.
How? Call ’em and ask.
If you’re a business, then beyond competent support, reliability might well
be topmost in your mind.
You also need to understand your options.
If you’re looking for a good dial-up ISP, you have many choices. Besides an appropriate
level of support, you’ll want to look at their coverage area. If you travel a lot, you’ll
want to make sure that the ISP you select has local dialup numbers in the areas
you travel to.
At the other extreme, you may have no choice. If you’re on cable, then your
cable provider will be your ISP. Similarly for satellite and for cellular, the
provider is your ISP. Once you’re connected to the internet you can, of course,
use many other services, but it’ll still be your cable, satellite or cellular
provider that’s getting you that internet connection to start with.
DSL is interesting. For DSL your telephone company does not have to be your
ISP. While they are still involved in providing the physical DSL signal to your
house, you can select from many ISPs that will provide the actual connectivity
to the internet. And that, of course is where things remain interesting.
So how do you find out which ISPs are available to you, and of those which
meet the criteria you select?
Unfortunately, most of the comparison sites compare features and price – not
quality of service or user experiences. That makes it difficult to determine
what they’re really like once you’ve connected.
While it’s a bit on the geeky side, I strongly recommend spending some time
out at Broadband Reports. In
particular the Reviews section, as well as the Find
Service section can be used together to not only see what you have
available to you, but the site includes reviews detailing what other people are actually
experiencing. Looking around their discussion forums can also be enlightening.
As I mentioned earlier, calling a prospective ISP’s support line
(not the sales number) can be very educational. If the ISP has an
on-line support site or forums, spend a few minutes browsing to see if it
matches your expectations and level of knowledge.
Talk to your neighbors. This is particularly helpful when choosing a DSL
provider, or choosing between cable and DSL broadband. See what your neighbors
use, and how happy they are with the service.
I strongly recommend against choosing based on price. Obviously it
factors in to the overall equation, but my experience here on Ask Leo!, based
on the questions and problem reports I get, is that service is roughly (though
not always) proportional to price. In other words, you get what you pay for. I
get more questions relating to problems with low cost ISPs than with others.
And it’s not typically about their ability to deliver connectivity – it’s more
often about their ability – or failure – to deliver customer support when
something goes wrong.
And based on the problems I hear about, I would also avoid ISPs pushing
“accelerator” types of technology that promise to deliver faster downloads – I
get a fair number of issues relating to them.
I mentioned at the start that I can’t really recommend a specific ISP.
That’s because things vary greatly depending on where you are and what services
are actually available to you.
But I also said I had one exception.
If you’re in western Washington state, and kinda, sorta, know what you’re
doing – meaning you don’t need a lot of hand holding, I can heartily
Communications for your dialup and DSL needs. Formerly known as Blarg! they
actually have grown to cover at least 9 western states.
I’ve been a happy Avvanta customer for over a decade – both in my home and
at my wife’s business.
Recall that I indicated I’d left my previous ISP because they refused to
speak to my level? The local telephone company, they insisted on using, and
could not deviate from, their customer support script. Every time I’ve called
the folks at Avvanta it was clear that they didn’t need a script – they simply
knew what they were talking about and dealt with whatever issue on the
If you’re not in an area Avvanta covers, my experience with them leads me to
recommend that you make sure to check out your local and regional ISPs as you
go about selecting your next provider.