Free or Low-Cost Internet Access
Choosing an Internet service provider (ISP) can make a big difference in the types of Internet services that you can offer and the way access and information is presented. If the terms below are new to you, consult an introductory Internet book or an online dictionary or encyclopedia about computers and/or the Internet. A good one to check out is PC webopaedia at www.pcwebopedia.com/.
What are your needs?
First decide what your needs are. The lowest priced provider in your area may not be the best choice. Make a list of what services you want and need and compare it to what services various providers offer and at what prices.
Examples to consider are:
- web access
What kind of connection do you need?
The choices you make in services can affect your choice of connection. Do you use the Internet primarily for email? Do you download large files frequently? Do you like to send and receive family photographs? Do you want wireless acccess to the Internet? Dialup connections are less expensive but slower than the so-called "broadband" (cable or DSL) connections, so it takes much longer to send and receive large files via dialup.
Who are the ISPs?
With around 4,000 listings, THE LIST at www.thelist.com/ (searchable and indexed by area code and geographic region) is the place start. Links to each provider's website.
Another good list, if you want address and phone number listed for printing, is the Providers of Commercial Internet Access POCIA List at www.celestin.com/pocia/, indexed within the categories by area code, state, city, or name. The categories are: US and Canada; Other Countries; Web Hosting Companies; Other Resources (other ISP lists, some regional).
The Cheap and Free ISP website at cheapandfreeisp.com/ also offers links to a variety of low-cost Internet service providers. They also offer a broadband comparison: enter your phone number and address, choose the type of service you're looking for, and it will generate a list of choices in your area.
How much will it cost?
Contact Internet service vendors in your area and ask them about costs and services. Make sure that vendors can provide the services that you need and the type and speed of access to make that access easy. Flat rates for unlimited dialup access can range from around $10 to as much as $24 per month. Broadband (cable or DSL) connections will generally cost double that. Beware of ads that offer extremely low rates: read the fine print as many of these offers expire after a few months and the monthly costs can double or even triple after the trial period.
What other things do you want from a service provider?
In addition to basic services, other factors may influence your choice of an Internet service provider.
- If you want dialup access, local numbers (to avoid long distance fees).
- Reliability of their connection to the Internet and number of people using it.
- A help desk that you can phone when the system is down or to ask questions about access; preferably a phone number that is answered by a carbon-based life form (i.e. a real person).
- Statistical reports. Regular reports of connect time and a way to tally the number of sessions will prove helpful.
How do you gather information about service providers?
- Call them and ask questions and get any written marketing material they produce.
- Ask for a list of current subscribers and contact some of them for their opinions.
- Ask for some "guest" time to test the system. After you have used the system, have someone else use your guest account and get their impressions.
- Get a feel for the human side of the organization by talking to their representative and calling their help desk. This might help you get an idea about their customer relations.