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Reviewing Your Internet Service Provider (ISP)

by Bruce Cantwell

Whether you are choosing your first Internet Service Provider or are just fed up with your old one, you've come to the right place.

I've been using some form of Internet Service Provider since I bought my first modem-equipped computer in 1993. When I was writing down some notes for this article, I was surprised to discover that I've used an even dozen ISPs since then, not counting Web Hosting services. I've also listened to countless hours of computer call-in shows over the years and recommended ISPs to my clients.

This article covers:

We'll begin with the J.D. Power ratings for dial-ups, the services you most likely have now and the two leading alternatives.

J. D. POWER Dial-Up Internet Service Provider Ratings
Company Performance & Reliability Cost Billing E-mail Customer Service Image
AOL
MSN
JUNO PLATINUM
EARTHLINK
Scoring
  Among the best.
  Does not really stand out.
  Better than most.
  The rest.
Note: J.D. Power Consumer Center ratings do not include all information used to determine J.D. Power and Associates awards.
Source: J.D. Power website August 26, 2003.

Best Inexpensive Dial-Up ISP

As much as the Nasdaq hates to admit it, the Internet isn't all things to all people. Sometimes it's actually faster to look up a movie time in a newspaper or look up a store address in the Yellow Pages.

Juno provides no-frills dial-up Internet access for 9.95 a month.

Service Comparison Juno AOL EarthLink MSN AT&T SBC/Yahoo!
Monthly Access Cost $9.95 $23.90 $21.95 $21.95 $16.95 $15.95
Juno Saves You - 58% 54% 54% 41% 37%

Whenever I see a company undercut the competition by such margins, I ask myself how they do it. Juno does it by focusing exclusively on the dial-up customer. Without exception, the other ISPs in this comparison are pursuing the upscale broadband market and investing a lot of money to do it. It's unlikely that Juno will jack up prices any time soon because unlike many of their competitors, their parent company was actually profitable last time I looked. Juno charges for live tech support but since their performance and reliability appears to be on par with MSN and better than AOL, this is unlikely to be a prohibitive feature.

I'm a broadband user myself but I'd be hard pressed to justify the additional $51 a month if I the Internet weren't an integral part of my business. Juno is worth considering for the casual home user, which the vast majority of us are.

More info on Juno Platinum.

Best All-Around Dial-Up

When the dependable local (Chicago) ISP I recommended to clients was swallowed up by a regional company, which was swallowed up by a national company, I recommended EarthLink and am glad that I did. Among other things, at their new e-mail addresses my clients' spam dropped to zero. While MSN and AOL put marketing their various offerings ahead of customer service, EarthLink was focusing on the customer service niche. When I moved from Chicago to Portland, we took one of our computers in the car with us in order to check e-mail. Since I hadn't configured a computer for dial-up in a while, I missed a step and had trouble connecting. Ah, forgetfulness. I gave EarthLink a call from somewhere in Wyoming and they had me set straight with a local number in minutes.

Among the major ISPs, EarthLink has taken the most aggressive stance against SPAM. They offer SPAM blocking and pop-up blocking features as part of their service. In the J.D. Power and Associates 2002 Internet Service Provider Residential Customer Satisfaction Study, EarthLink.net finished in first place for dial-up and tied for first place in high speed Internet access. Key factors in the survey included performance and reliability, customer service, e-mail, cost of service, billing, image, and offerings and promotions.

More Info on EarthLink Dial-Up.

Best Broadband

Every commercial I see for broadband features LIGHTNING FAST DOWNLOADS. You've been around the Web enough to know that streaming media can be fun but there are only so many movie trailers you can watch. I've paid the extra money for cable Internet since 1999 and haven't regretted it for a second. The reason to choose broadband is because you're always connected.

The reason to choose broadband is productivity. When you are done with this page, time how long it takes for your modem to connect to your current ISP. While you're doing that, I'll check my e-mail. In eight seconds I clicked on my e-mail client, downloaded new messages and looked at the subject lines. In seven seconds I went to Google, searched "lightning fast downloads" and clicked on the top search results. Also, if you spend so much time on the Internet that your phone line is constantly tied up you can earmark the bucks for a second phone line for DSL.

In most markets, there are fewer choices in broadband than there are in dial-up. In my experience, cable uploads and downloads have been faster than DSL. DSL often comes with different prices for different speed limits.

Since AT&T Broadband sold out to Comcast, EarthLink is the leading broadband service provider.

More Info on EarthLink Broadband.