What You Should Consider Before Choosing an ISP
The most important feature, naturally, is availability. It’s no use trying to get Verizon FiOS (or, better yet, 100-times-faster-than-other-broadband Google Fiber) if the company doesn’t service your area. To find out what’s available to you, head to http://dslreports.com/search and enter your zip code. DSL Reports breaks down broadband options near you by category (cable providers, cheapest broadband, top rated ISPs, residential DSLs by price, etc.), and provides user ratings across factors such as connection reliability and value for the money.
Other sites can help with your research. If you’d like a quicker comparison of the most popular (major) services, WhiteFence offers an easy-to-scan chart and the ability to compare individual packages. And if you’re looking for satellite providers, ISPProvidersinMyArea is one of the few comparison sites to include satellite as well as DSL, cable, and wireless providers.
The comparison sites are a good starting point to quickly identify which ISPs have the best combination of speeds and price. You’ll also need to visit the individual ISPs’ websites to get the fine details on their packages so you can make a thorough comparison for yourself, based on your needs. In particular, pay attention to:
Download and Upload Speeds: We all want fastest internet at the price we’re willing to pay. Make sure when you’re comparing services, you do so on an apples-to-apples basis, comparing the most similar plans based on both download and upload speeds. To find the ISPs with the fastest upload and download speeds actually tested by users worldwide, visit Speedtest.net’s Net Index. Click on the map to drill down to your area and scroll down to the ranking of ISPs by speed index (available for download and upload speeds, as well as network quality).
Cost and Contract: Some services require you to rent the modem or buy it yourself; others provide it for you. Some offer free installation while others charge you for that service call. Most discount your internet service if you package it with television and/or phone service (but often only for a few months, so be sure to compare costs including after the bundle expires as well). And you might be able to avoid a multi-year contract with some—for a higher price, of course. These are the details you’ll need to consider when comparing services by price.
Terms of Service: Similarly, make sure you know what the service’s limitations are. There may be data caps, for example, limiting the amount of data you can use per month, or restrictions on the kinds of activities you’re allowed to do, such as running a web or file server.
Add-ons and special features: Many ISPs throw in extras just to make it seem like you’re getting a great value. Things like anti-virus program subscriptions, an ISP-branded email address, and personal webpages are just that—extras that you likely don’t need. One pretty cool add-on you might find, though, is free Wi-Fi hotspot access. For example, if you’re a Cablevision customer anywhere near one of its public Wi-Fi towers (whether you’re in a building like a coffeeshop or outside in the park), you can hop on to it. That might sway you if you frequently use your laptop on the go.
Reliability: Of course, none of these features matter if you can’t use the service when you need to. DSL Reports shows reviews from your neighbors, which is a great start. As mentioned above, you can also use the Net Index from Speedtest.net to get a ranking of real-world ISP quality tests.
Customer support: If you experience outages or other problems with the internet (as will happen), how easy is it to get support? Does the provider offer phone, email, or chat customer support? How painful or painless is the installation process? JD Power’s Residenial Internet Service Provider Ratings measures ISP customers’ satifsaction across several factors, including performance and customer service.