5 Questions To Ask Your New Internet Provider – Before You Sign Up
When I started looking for an Internet service provider, my questions were probably limited to “how fast can I afford?” and “how quickly can you get it working?” After several years and almost as many different ISPs, I now have a few more detailed and crucial questions that I wish I’d asked.
1 What are the REAL speeds I can expect?
This is a tough question for any ISP rep to handle, because they’ll have to admit that you’ll never get the speed that they quoted you. Any Internet connection will sacrifice a percentage of the available bandwidth for things like network overhead, and some types of connections will suffer from a wide range of detrimental effects. DSL is very sensitive to distance, so ask how far your address is from the “Central Office.” Cable is very sensitive to shared usage, so ask how much speed you can expect to lose during “peak hours” when all of your neighbors are using the same connection. Fiber doesn’t have the same kinds of drawbacks, but you can ask if it’s a “fiber-to-the-home” or “fiber-to-the-neighborhood” connection — the first will give you the best speeds, being a shorter and more direct path to your PC, while the second has some of the same shared copper-wire issues as a cable Internet connection.
2 Can I choose my hardware?
Or, similarly, “Do you sell, rent, and / or subsidize the hardware that I’ll need?” Most Internet connections require some kind of modem to authorize and decrypt the ISP’s signals, and most people will also require a router (and typically a wireless one). Although you can buy your own modems and routers, some ISPs require that you use only their equipment, and will charge you a monthly rental fee if they retain ownership. Other ISPs will sell you the required hardware all at once, or more commonly spread the cost out over the term of the contract — in which case, you’ve very likely paying far more than the modem and / or router is actually worth. To be fair, compatibility is a very good reason to stick with “official” hardware, but it’s worth asking if there are any alternative “recommended” modems and routers that you can purchase yourself.
3 Will my costs stay the same throughout my contract?
Ideally, you want your ISP to nail down a monthly price and stick to it for as long as you’re a customer. In the real world, however, you can expect that prices will go up every once in a while. So just make sure that you can get the ISP to commit to the same price for the length of time that you’re committed to paying it.
4 Are there any data limits?
It’s worth asking, even though chances are the ISP wouldn’t admit it if there were. Many ISPs set a bandwidth “cap” each month, and when you reach it, the consequences can be extra usage fees or less-obvious loss in speed (“throttling”). The amount doesn’t include only your total downloaded data, but the total of both downstream and upstream data transfers (i.e., any pics or vids you’ve uploaded to Flickr, Facebook, YouTube, etc). This happens much less often in residential Internet than it does in wireless data, but most of the major ISPs have been proven to engage in some form of capping and / or throttling. If you get a “yes” answer, make sure that you nail down the data limit (beware of the “percentage” answer!) and what the ISP does about it (i.e., what are your overage charges or expected speed losses).
5 Is there a cancellation fee?
If you’ve signed a contract, you can bet that there’s some penalty for getting out early. Obviously, any decent ISP want to keep you as a happy customer, but in the worst case, they’ll settle for having you stay that extra month or year or two because a huge final bill is less appealing than long-term dissatisfaction. But keep in mind that you don’t need to be on contract to have a cancellation fee — many ISPs (especially the major providers with service “bundles” will still zing you with extra last-month charges after the contract period is over — when they are free to raise rates and change the terms of service all they want.
It’s not exactly a question, but one important piece of advice is to go over the Terms and Conditions. Yes, it’s more boring than watching paint dry, but don’t just sign the T&C when you’re already decided on your ISP. Actually take the time to read and compare the fine print of your various prospective ISP’s contracts. I signed one that basically said the ISP didn’t have to deliver the speed that they quoted me, that they could raise my prices any time they wanted, and that they didn’t guarantee that they’d even restore service in a timely manner if they had technical problems. Armed with the above questions (and the most likely ISP answers), you’ll be in a better position to compare provider services than I was.
Guest post contributed by Hannah an adventure enthusiast writing for Deals.ServiceBundles.com who thrives on marketing, technology, and all things internet!