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Which is the best ISP for me ? (Or "Is price always better")

December 9th, 2013

There exists an old maxim in business, or, rather, the qualities of a businesses' products or services:

"Better, faster, cheaper: Pick two" - This is almost invariably true. In fact, barring cases of extreme incompetance, this maxim is the existential quantifier of ANY ISP (in fact, of nearly any business):

  • Do you want faster speeds and higher quality tech support ? Then you will pay a little more.
  • Do you want faster speeds, but don't care so much about the tech support ? Great! You'll pay a little less!
  • Do you want tech support that will hold your hand every step of the way, but you're still on a budget ? No problem - You just won't be getting a 100 Mb/Sec asyncronous connection for $29.95 a month.

This is something that truly is worth thinking about when selecting your ISP - Unfortunately, it is often a thought process that is skipped - after all, price is the fastest, easiest way to compare, right ? Even this site,, lists ISPs with prices front and centre.

However: Think about just how much the Internet is a part of your daily life: You check your email in the morning when you get up; You watch TV or movies in the evening; Your kids use it to play video games and research their homework; Your spouse is checking out your next vacation spot; Often, all of this is happening *simultaneously*. In my household, we have eight devices that are connected to the 'Net: A typical evening will see the following connected:

  1. My computer
  2. Daughters' computer
  3. Tablet x 2
  4. IPhone
  5. XBox

All of them running concurrently, all of them using relatively bandwidth intensive applications. My ISP, I selected for speed and quality - It's not the cheapest by far (nor is it the most expensive), but I value the quality of the connection and the competence of their tech support, which I might need once per year or so.

On tech support, that is something else worth considering, too: Not all technical issues that a user calls in to their ISP necesarrily have to do with the ISP - In fact, there is an acronym commonly used, which is: PEBKAC:

This is often true (having worked in tech support for two years, I can say that this is very often true!) - There are ISPs out there that will *only* support you if the problem is on their end - Once it's determined that there is no problem, end of support call and still no solution.

A great ISP do their best to solve your problem, if it is at all within their abilities. Even me - I've been doing this "Internet thing" for over thirty years, but my expertise is the 'Net itself - Not so much on the hardware that lets me connect to it. I had an issue last month where I was *convinced* it was my ISPs' DNS messing up; No, it turns out that it was, indeed, my own computer with messed up settings (four DNS entries, two of which from an old ISP) - How did I eventually figure this out ? My ISP gave me the troubleshooting tips to figure it out. That definitely is one element of "making the fees worth it".

So, while the 'Better, faster, cheaper' doesn't always hold true, more often than not, it does. Remember the NASA acronymn: TANSTAAFL


So if you're getting the cheapest price on the market for your connection (Or, frankly, for your car, your garden tools, your computers, whatever), ask yourself: What was the tradeoff to make it the cheapest ? Can I live without that tradeoff ? Am I actually getting what I need from the Internet ?

If you can not live without the 'perks' of faster speed and/or great support/customer support, then it would be well, well worth your time to save some money somewhere else, other than your ISP fees.

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