Choosing an Internet service provider 

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An Internet service provider, or ISP, is an organization that provides access to the Internet. It may also offer other services such as Web hosting, Web development and email.

Connection

Before choosing a service provider, determine your business needs. What will you do on the Internet and how much time will you spend connected? Once you have a clear idea of these requirements, you can research providers that serve your area.

Your needs will determine what type of connection and speed you need. Let your potential ISP know if your business plan includes:

  • Having a website
  • Performing online transactions (selling online)
  • Using social media
  • Sending large files like videos or images
  • Hosting interactive tools
  • Supporting high traffic during peak times

Speed

Your connection speed is determined by bandwidth, which represents the amount of data that you can transmit in a fixed period of time. This is usually measured in bits per second (bps) and expressed in units of thousands (K) or millions (M).

How you transfer data will determine the type of speed you need. Upstream speed refers to how fast you can send data (upload) while downstream refers to the speed at which you can receive data (download). Although high downstream speed is usually most important, you would need fast upstream capability if you want to transmit large documents or host a website.

Your connection speed may also be affected by your computer's capacity and whether it has been infected with malware.

Wireless

If you use hardware such as laptops, handheld devices or smartphones in your business, you may require wireless (Wi-Fi) services. If these services are available in your area, make sure that connecting to a wireless network does not interfere with the security of your business.

Your wireless requirements depend on the types of transmissions you make and their frequency. If you want to connect several computers to the Internet or have access from anywhere at any time, your requirements will be greater than if you are only online a few hours per week. You may find you do not need wireless at all if your Internet use is low.

Software for value-added services

Many Internet service providers offer their own software or value-added services to allow you to:

  • Read email offline
  • Store emails and other files online
  • Use multiple email addresses
  • Chat online
  • Have a hosted website

These services may also include security software to filter spam, protect against malware (viruses, worms and Trojans), and filter or block out certain content.

Technical support

If you have questions about email, the Internet or your website, you may need technical support from time to time. Ask any potential provider about all technical support charges. Find out if you can call for help toll-free and whether the hours of operation coincide with your business needs.

Ask how often you can expect busy signals for your connection and about the service's expected uptime, or system reliability. Uptime can be crucial, especially when hosting a webpage or site.

Cost and billing options

You may be able to choose from a variety of billing options. Take the time to investigate the various charges that you may incur. These could range from pay-per-use technical support to long-distance fees. Will you pay a flat rate or will the costs depend on use? There may also be surcharges if you exceed your monthly limit.

Internet service providers often offer trial packages or reduced rates for new customers.

Web hosting

Most service providers offer basic Web hosting packages that can be modified to fit your needs. Compare the packages offered by different providers, and get answers to the following questions before signing a contract:

  • How much bandwidth is available for data transfer (uploads and downloads)?
  • How much data storage space is available? Can you add space later on?
  • Does the provider host commercial websites?
  • What is the site's expected uptime? What is the company's policy about this?
  • Which operating systems are supported?

Providers also offer a variety of services along with Web hosting. Your business needs may include some of these options:

  • Shopping cart and other e-commerce technologies and services
  • Web-based tools for site maintenance and configuration
  • Mailing list services

In addition to the monthly fee, additional features may incur more costs. Find out about other items such as domain name registration and service fees for adding or removing features.

Becoming familiar with the products can help you make a well-informed decision. Can your peers recommend an Internet service provider?

Read and understand the service contract before you commit to it. You need to know what to expect in the event of a closure or merger, or if the quality of service does not meet your expectations.

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