Whatever your present level of expertise, you will want to consider these factors when selecting a provider.
- Speed. For a dial-up modem, does the ISP provide a 56k connection-the maximum speed ordinary phone lines can handle? For a faster connection, you will have to consider moving up to "broadband Internet access", which lets you access the Internet via high-speed technologies, such as a digital subscriber line (DSL), a cable modem, or satellite.
- Availability. For dial-up service, is there a local phone number for access? If you travel, will there be local numbers or a toll-free number that you can call?
- Modem Ratio. Since not all users are online at the same time, it is not necessary for an ISP to have a modem for every user. But they should have a user to modem ratio of 10 to 1 or better. The lower the number of users per modem, the better your chance of being able to connect at peak hours.
- Email. How many e-mail accounts come with the service? What will be the storage limit on your mailbox? How many days does the ISP keep your mail before deleting it?
- Website Space. Do you want to create a personal website? If so, find out whether your provider offers web space and software to create your page.
- Software. Is there any software required to activate the service? How do you get it? How large is the software? Can you use whatever browser or e-mail program you'd like?
- Support. What kinds of support are available-phone, e-mail, chat, etc.? What are the hours of support? Are there any additional charges for support?
- Special Features. What services are provided in terms of spam blocking, virus protection, instant messaging, and chat rooms?
- Terms of Service. Is there a limit to the number of hours per month you can use the service?
- Cost. What is the monthly fee for the service? Are there any additional equipment or setup fees? What is the fee for extra e-mail accounts?
There are several options for filing a complaint against an Internet Service Provider (ISP). There is no single agency that regulates ISPs; however, there are several agencies at the local and federal levels that handle questions and complaints.
First, you may contact your local consumer protection office to file a complaint against an ISP or to report fraudulent activity.
At the federal level, you may contact the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Although the FCC does not regulate ISPs, you may file a complaint about charges on a telephone bill associated with a specific web site.