Getting the most from your Internet service provider
Q: I have had lots of issues with [Internet service provider name redacted]. Is there a better Internet provider? Of course, I even had trouble sending this message.
— James W.
A: When I first started this column back in 2007, I imposed some simple ground rules on it and on myself so that when it came time for certain decisions, I wouldn’t have to make them hastily or under pressure of a deadline. One of those decisions was that as the column’s reach grew, I would not allow vendors to use it as a source of free advertising for any product or service (although I am open to being a compensated endorser for things that I actually use, trust or believe in). The corollary to all of that is to also not unduly bash any given product, service or vendor with which I don’t have direct, actionable experience. That’s why I chose to redact the name of your IP in your question, James. It probably won’t take an Über-Geek to figure out which one we’re talking about, but if and when that happens, my conscience will be clear.
You were certainly more than a little vague about the “issues” you’re experiencing. There are so many different things that can — and, indeed, do — go wrong with the service from any given ISP. Is your connection slow? Is it unreliable? Too expensive? Something else? It’s hard to compare the quality of providers without knowing what’s important to you and what issues you’re trying to overcome.
Over time, I have addressed many reader questions about the quality of the Internet service they pay for each month. I also read complaints about them on a regular basis on social media. Your provider is mentioned on a fairly regular basis as one that has, shall we say, questionable customer service. It has been my experience that they will tell you just about anything to get you off the phone, as if the shortness of their calls is far more important to them than actually helping the caller with the problem at hand.
Unfortunately, the troublesome word in your question is “better.” Since there is no way to quantify “betterness,” in this context, anything I tell you, even if I were to tell you to stay with your current provider, would simply be my opinion. So, let’s talk instead about options, then you can do your own research and draw your own conclusions.
The market is currently jammed with choices for receiving high-speed Internet service in your home. Options include fiber-optic, digital subscriber line (DSL), cable (as in cable TV), satellite and even cellular-based wireless technologies, which include the latest fifth-generation (5G) services. Not all of these are available in all locations, and when they are, the service and price can vary wildly. Regardless of the technology, most companies have different service tiers in the offing, generally separated by speed and data limits, and, of course, the higher the numbers, the more expensive it gets.
As for your issues, I will offer the following advice: If they’re related to cost, find out if your provider, or a competing provider, offers a service plan that’s more in line with your needs. For example, you don’t need the most blazing fast speed if all you use your connection for is to download, email or do casual Web surfing. On the other hand, if you’re a hardcore gamer, a bargain-level service plan is not going to provide you with speeds anywhere near what you want. Remember, the faster the service, the more money you should expect to spend, so don’t settle for less than you need or pay for something you don’t need. If you want to better understand how fast your Internet service needs to be, visit TinyURL.com/IGTM-0817A and answer the questions.
If your issues are related to quality or reliability, a call to your ISP’s customer service is in order. There might be an undetected service issue in your area. Much of these systems are self-monitoring, but a lot of repairs still rely on end-of-the-line customers to report when something is not working as expected.
I wish you the best with your issues, James. Good luck, and happy computing!