What Should I Consider When Choosing a Broadband Internet Provider?
For many people the most compelling factor in the choice between broadband Internet providers is speed. For others, price is what it’s all about, and for others, convenience. Let’s take a look at the different choices and the pros and cons of each.
Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) is broadband Internet provided over copper telephone lines. While these are the same lines that provide telephone service, you can use DSL and talk on the phone at the same time because voice and DSL traffic occupy different frequency bands.
DSL a nice step up from dial-up service because it offers affordable tiered plans priced according to speed. You might pay as little as $14 US Dollars (USD) per month for a plan with entry speeds that are many times faster than dial-up, making DSL a good way to introduce yourself to broadband Internet without breaking the bank. You can also upgrade to a faster plan at any time, up to 6 Megabits per second (Mbps).
DSL is distributed throughout neighborhoods using special routers or Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplexers (DSLAMs), pronounced dee-slams. The further the signal travels from the DSLAM, the more it degrades, impairing speed. The closer you live to the local DSLAM, the faster and better your service will be within the parameters of your plan. If you happen to live at the outer reaches of the local DSLAM, you might not be satisfied with DSL service. You can always ask how close you live to a DSLAM before committing.
While DSL comes in over the phone lines, it isn’t necessarily your telco that provides the service. If you do get DSL from your telco they will bundle it with your phone bill to save you an extra bill. Otherwise it’s common to sign a one year contract with a third party provider, and have your credit card debited automatically every month.
People who have quit landline service in favor of cellular service can still get DSL, referred to as naked DSL. However, it’s usually more expensive.
Cable Internet is provided by your cable TV company, offering broadband Internet courtesy of the same cabling that brings in your television signal at speeds of 3-20 Mbps. Cable broadband tends to be a one-package deal: one plan offered for one price. The speed is usually high enough that the price is equally steep compared to introductory DSL plans. It’s not unusual to pay $40 USD monthly for cable Internet.
Cable broadband Internet is theoretically faster than DSL with possible speeds up to 30 Mbps, though it's typically throttled back to 3-20 Mbps. Top-tier DSL plans can compete with cable plans limited to 6 Mbps or less, with DSL usually being cheaper. Location doesn’t affect the quality of cable Internet, unlike DSL where being located further from a DSLAM is a disadvantage. Nevertheless, cable Internet has it’s own drawback: if the local load becomes too high, service can slow due to less available bandwidth.
Cable broadband Internet can be convenient if you already have cable TV service, as you can simply add high-speed Internet to the package and pay a single bill. Digital phone service might also be included. Cable Internet is also a good choice if DSL service is unavailable.
Fiber Optic Broadband Internet: If you live in a newer community you might not have copper telephone lines or cable, but fiber optic lines. Fiber optic cable can handle much more bandwidth than copper or standard cable lines. The local telco typically offers digital phone, television and broadband Internet in a packaged deal, much like cable but with greater capacity. Broadband Internet over fiber optic offers the fastest speeds of up to 50 Mbps, but is also priced at a premium.
To accommodate different budgets, fiber optic broadband is offered in tiered plans like DSL, however the least expensive plan will run close to $45 USD monthly for 10 Mbps. In areas where copper telephone lines and cable have been replaced by fiber optic, there may not be an alternative for broadband Internet that’s any more affordable. The good news is that the connection will be fast and uncompromised by location or load.
Cellular Internet Business travelers might consider broadband Internet through a cellular company. Connectivity is provided over cell towers, making this the most flexible and convenient type of broadband Internet. You can get online anywhere there is cell service by popping a cellular broadband card into a mobile computer’s PC Card or Express Card slot. The downside is cost, with contractual plans running as high as $80 USD per month or more.
Satellite Broadband: In rural areas where choice is limited or nonexistent, you might find satellite Internet can get you online, though it won’t be cheap. There is also a lag when surfing due to the signal having to travel back and forth to the satellite, making this a last resort option.
When shopping for a broadband Internet provider, consider smaller local companies. They often provide better customer service than large national competitors.
@Terrificli -- fortunately, providers have generally gotten a lot better over the years. Those that had trouble with bad service have, in a lot of areas, been replaced with reliable providers.
There are usually few options for broadband providers in a given area, so the competition can be fierce. If one company has a bunch of unhappy customers because of frequent network outages, that leaves the door open for a better company to come in and grow quickly.
Reliability is also a major factor. The fastest broadband connection at the best price in the world will be next to worthless if service outages are common. Check with some people in your area and ask if they have any problems with a lot of downtown. Avoid the providers that have frequent network outages because you will be frustrated.
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