QUESTIONS FOR YOUR ISP

BEHIND THE COMPETITION A majority of Americans -- 144 million people -- now have access to the Internet at home. Any ISP that can turn a piece of that number into profits is bound to be happy. Click for more. And this week, Internet research firm Media Metrix reported that lower-income households are the fastest-growing segment of Web users. It's still a small number, but it is bound to get bigger. Put these together and you realize that the half of the Americans who aren't online yet, may soon want to be. And in the rush to hook them up, some providers may give short shrift to the thing that matters most: the kind of service you need. SIX ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS If you've moved and must change or are unhappy with your current ISP, don't just leap into the next one. Get some answers first. 1. Can it handle the traffic? One way to get this information is to ask your ISP what the users-to-modems ratio is. There should not be more than 10, and seven or eight is even better. Much more than that and you are likely to run into busy signals. 2. How good is the technical support? If you're lucky, you'll know someone who uses the ISP you're considering, but you can also ask your ISP to put you in contact with other users who use their service. Also, ask what hours technical support is available and if there are fees associated with it. Forget it if there are. Click for more. 3. Does tech support understand your operating system? This is the problem with people in the computer and Internet industry: They assume that everyone on the planet upgrades their system twice a year. News flash: There are people out there still using Windows 3.1, as well as some alternative systems. Steer clear if your would-be provider can't give you a convincing answer on this one. Click for more. 4. Will your provider support higher speeds? Will your ISP be able to accommodate you if you want to switch to DSL? You may not think you're ready to yet, but it'll happen sooner than you think. And when it does, you don't want to have to switch email addresses and endure the hassle and disruption of the change. 5. What will you really pay for that free ISP? My advice to free ISPs: Give up the idea that your customer service can be crappy because you're not charging for the service. My advice to consumers: Find out what advertisements and other intrusions you'll have to endure to use your free ISP and ask yourself whether it's worth it. Click for more. 6. Will it support the programs you use? In the Seattle area, for example, Baby Bell Qwest is also an ISP. But they won't support Microsoft Outlook, one of the most popular email and calendaring programs. FINDING AN ISP The best place to get information about an ISP is from a friend. Find out what their experience has been and if it sounds good take your list of questions to the company and start grilling. If your friends hate their ISPs, turn to The List, a big, but not exhaustive, list of ISPs in the U.S. and abroad. It's searchable by area code and country code. For more, visit the ZDNet ISP Resource Center. Click for more. After that, you're on your own in the wild. Remember to keep one eye over your shoulder at the watering hole and don't wander too far from the group. When it's safe, hit the Talkback button and tell me what question you'll be asking your next ISP. You can also go to my Berst Alerts Forum where a discussion in under way right now.

Wired Homes By Number

US Homes with web access: 144 million

Average time online per month: 10

Monthly page views per use: 709

Unique sites visited per month: 10

You should also find out what kind of connectivity the ISP has (for example, 28K and V.90 56K connections), and how many users share each connection. Your bandwidth will be equal to the bandwidth of the connection divided by the number of users connected. (For example, if seven users share a 56K connection, they'll each get a maximum of 8-Kbps bandwidth.) You don't want to share a connection with more than eight or so users. The final factor is how forward-thinking the company is. Currently, ISPs are like the phone company: They just provide you with a line. But in time, value-added service may become more popular. Multicasting, radio and TV broadcasts, telephony, and faxing are services ISPs will offer in the future. Ask what additional services your prospective ISP plans to offer. If you want to put up your own webpage, make sure the ISP provides at least 10MB storage for a website, without additional charges for downloads, and free or inexpensive domain names. These are all important issues that you need to consider.
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On August 17, 2000 Thursday, Nielsen/NetRatings reported that 52 percent of U. S. homes, or 144 million people, had access to the Internet in July. That represents a 35 percent jump in just a year.
But there are signs that is likely to change: The number of households wired for DSL or other high-speed lines has nearly doubled since October, from 5 percent to 9 percent, O'Neill said. In yet another study, Forrester Research Inc. (Nasdaq: FORR) predicted that 70.3 million households would be online in 2004, which is close to 75 percent of all homes.
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