Choosing an ISP (Internet Service Provider) - Cable/DSL/Fiber - Charter/AT&T/Comcast/FiOS/UVerse/Qwest/Verizon/Time Warner

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There are a lot of options for ISP (Internet Service Providers) out there, so how do you choose?  Here are some tips and tricks from a guy who likes to switch ISPs every couple years just to try them out!




But first, a few terms, definitions, and facts to get out of the way...
  • Mbps - Mbps is an acronym for megabits (Mb) per second and it is a measure of your internet speed.  Higher numbers are better as they are high speed connections that get your data back and forth faster.


  • Cable Internet - Cable Internet uses much of the same technology as Cable TV in your home.  Think about the black cable that you screw into the back of you TV, that's the same thing that Cable Internet uses.    
    The advantages of Cable Internet are that you don't need a phone line, it is capable of very high speeds, connection speed is usually not affected by your distance from the ISP, and the connection is usually very reliable.  The disadvantages are the (sometimes) higher cost per month than DSL, sometimes cannot get it without Cable TV too, it is not offered in all areas, you either need to buy your own equipment or rent theirs for a high monthly fee, and your connection speed drops as more people in your neighborhood/area use it.


  • DSL Internet - DSL uses something called POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service), or normal land-line phone lines to work.  In your home, think about the cable that you plug into the back of your phone, that's what DSL uses.
          
    The advantages of DSL are that is uses the existing phone that you already have, your line is dedicated so your connection speed should always be the same regardless of how many neighbors have DSL, and it is capable of fairly high speeds.  The disadvantages are that your connection speed is affected by your distance from the ISP, often it is only available when paired with land-line phone service, and you either need to buy your own equipment or rent theirs for a high monthly fee.


  • Fiber Internet - Have you ever seen those toys or lamps that have bunches of clear filaments that carry light?  These toys and lamps are very basic examples of the same light and filament technology that Fiber Internet uses!
        
    The advantages of Fiber Internet are that it is capable of very high speeds, and the equipment rental is often included in the monthly price up front.  The disadvantages are that your connection speed is affected by your distance from the ISP, often it is only available when paired with other fiber services like phones and/or TV, and you are stuck with their equipment because this is a fairly new technology and affordable equipment options are not available for most people.




So, now that I know the differences in technology and ways to get internet, who do I choose?
Well, that's a fairly complicated question to be honest, and everything from price to reliability varies from area to are so I can only be generic in my discussion here; however, here are some of the things you should consider...
  • Google "reviews of {the company name} in {your area}" - there are plenty of websites like www.dslreports.com that offer reviews from real people out there for the ISP that you are considering.
  • Go to the ISP website (i.e. www.Charter.com) and start putting together your order.  You find pricing info (monthly fees and possibly hidden fees, installation fees, etc), availability of the service for you, other services they require you to bundle your internet with, contracts or none, and other terms of service.
  • If you find a good deal at one ISP, still go compare it to the other ISPs online.  You might find a better deal.
  • Try chat or phone customer service to see if they can give you a better deal than what is posted on the internet.
  • If there is a local office, STOP BY AND TALK TO SOMEONE.  I am always surprised with the GREAT deals I get by just going in and talking to a person.
  • Consider bundling your services to get a discount on the installation and other fees, and then cancelling the services you don't want after a few months.  If you want to try this, be careful that you actually can!  If you are on a contract for the services, they will charge you up to wazoo for cancelling early.  Moral of the story, pay attention when you are signing up to make sure you are informed of all the details.




Some tips, tricks, notes and personal experiences...
In my area, I have recent experience with both AT&T UVerse and Charter Internet. 

My experience with AT&T UVerse was far far far far far FAR less than satisfactory - there were never ending weird issues with my account (like TV service showing up on my account info even though I didn't have it), the price kept going up, they wouldn't give me any new price breaks (partly because something was wrong with my account probably), and quality/reliability of my connection and speed kept decreasing (18Mbps service would only run at 8-9Mbps).  In full disclosure, I have a friend that lives about 5 miles away, and he loves his UVerse, so who knows what my problem way.

So, needless to say, I switched to Charter Cable Internet recently.  I got a $10 install (instead of $50) by going in and talking to a rep at the local office, received a way better price for 6 months that was 50% less than AT&T (the full price is still less by the way), and got faster 30Mbps service (that I actually GET 40Mbps or more regularly).

Your mileage may vary from company to company, so please take my comments with a grain of salt here.  Also, you may find that one company or the other gets fat and lazy with all the money they have been making and that company you loved 2 years ago is now really bad.  If that's the case, let your ISP know you think they stink and CHANGE service providers today!
fradyphoto posted Mar 06, 2012
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2 Comments
VirginiaPeanuts
"If there is a local office, STOP BY AND TALK TO SOMEONE. I am always surprised with the GREAT deals I get by just going in and talking to a person."

Very true. My friend and I went into best buy the other day and the Comcast guy said there was a $19 no contract internet deal. For my area, that is a really good deal because we don't get the $14 AT&T coverage or any other service under $30! I husband and I tried to find the deal online, the same day, and we couldn't find it!
VirginiaPeanuts (rep: 11.4k) posted Mar 06, 2012
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krmills1
I have Suddenlink for my Cable, Phone and Internet and have found that if I call them every 6 months or so they will give me a better offer if I just ask! Right now I pay about $125 a month for the bundle of 3 services and I think that is a pretty good deal.
krmills1 (rep: 14.2k) posted Mar 06, 2012
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