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Choosing an ISP: How do I choose a good ISP?


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
    phone lines.

  • 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.

“For DSL your telephone company does not have to be your

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
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
recommend Avvanta
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.

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9 comments on “Choosing an ISP: How do I choose a good ISP?”

  1. AOL’s new “mail only for free” service is pretty darn good. I’ve used them for some years even with my DSL line. I pay only $9.95/month for the complete service and over the time I’ve used AOL9SE, I have trained their built in spam filter to recognize a lot of spam that used to inhabit my mail. It’s very rare now that any spam sneaks into my in box. Now, with the new free stuff, I can save that monthly $9.95 bill by simply using a different browser. Ain’t progress grand?

  2. Yeah,I know there area lot of ‘good’ ISPs. I want
    one that is LESS than $9.95 a month and dependable
    too.I found it with $8.95 monthly, they
    bill my crerdit card monthly, and I’ve NEVER had
    any problem with them, NEVER.

  3. I have heard about a lot of problems with AOL customer support, especially if you are thinking about cancelling. AOL customer support is often following a script. An extreme example can be found on YouTube at, but I know of a number of AOL users and I do not like a number of things about their service including software.

  4. we currently use ntlworld broadband but want to change but the last time we tiried to change to aol i couldnt use my hot mail we are trying to find one that this wont happen on again but no one will commit to saying if we will or not be able to use it we have looked as talktalk and ticali but cant get a straight answer from either can you help

  5. Aol giving you free email, beware when they come bearing gift. Aol and I parted company as their customer support is very scripted, very pretentious/or nonsupport support,like to collect/sell your personal info, gave me hell in my attempts to cancel account(work you over like a felon to keep you), alway keep you on hold a long time, no accountability. Thats how they value you as customer!!!

  6. If anyone is thinking of getting AOL….DO NOT!!! I had them for 4 years now and it has been nothing but hell. AOL will not stay connected, and then you’re forced to restart your computer, just to get you back online, only to work for a few minutes before it freezes up again. And then when you’ve got fed up with trying to fix the problem yourself, don’t bother calling AOL up, because you’ll be greeted with someone who can hardly speak english, and then go through a list of things you’ve already done, then at the end they tell you it’s not AOL it’s that you have a bad modem, when you know you don’t. So then you decide to delete the AOL software…somehow it reinstalls itself..hmmmmm Then you decide to let your credit card expire to stop payment to AOL, but they find another way to charge you…WHAT THE HELL!?! The only thing I can tell you is, if you get stuck with AOL don’t use their software; use Firefox, it’ll make your experience a little less annoying. Try Earth Link if you don’t know what other service to use. It’s cheaper and far better.

  7. I own my domain name and would like to find a new email service provider-I now use register .com and it is not compatible with my iphone-i cannot receive or send email from my phone and frankly I am tired of dealing with it-do you have suggestions for another provider that is compatible with the iphone??? I do not want free service either thanks

  8. hi sir, i use internet at internet cafe but connection is slow. how can i do ? i want to download . what should i do ? (i use from myanmar). bye.

    Find an internet cafe with a faster connection? I don’t think there’s anything else you can do but find a faster connection elsewhere.


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