It’s pretty easy to experience information overload while researching broadband Internet access. If that sounds like you, don’t worry. Finding the right high-speed Internet plan doesn’t have to be complicated, and if you know how to quickly sift through the clutter, it can be downright easy.
How easy? Well, despite what you may have heard, there are really only 6 categories that matter when it comes to selecting the right broadband plan:
- Cost – How much money do I want to spend?
- Location – What technologies are available in my area?
- Extras – Are there features that one provider or technology offers which are absolute must-haves for me?
- Speed – How fast of a connection do I need?
- Service – Are there major differences in the quality/service amongst providers in my area?
And that, really and truly, is it! Cost, Location, Extras, Speed and Service, or “C-LESS” for short. C-LESS is actually pronounced “See Less”, as in:
- See less of your time being wasted worrying about how to find the right broadband plan.
- See less of your money flowing out the door for unnecessary broadband services.
- See less of yourself frowning in front of the mirror as you try to make sense of everything broadband!
The C-LESS approach is about simplicity and helping you to make an informed decision with minimal wasted time. So spend just 6 (maybe 7) minutes learning the basics of broadband shopping below and you will be well on your way to broadband bliss! And with that, lets dive right in.
(Note: We will soon be launching a price comparison tool that will help you to quickly find the best deals for broadband in your area. Look for an update to this section when the tool is fully up and running.)
Cost is actually one the easiest broadband categories to quickly evaluate. Although cost can depend on different factors like taxes and discounts for service bundles that combine other services like TV and phone, your best bet is to start with a simple comparison of the costs for just broadband service by itself.
Your basic cost will always depend on your location, but you can expect that basic service will be anywhere from $25 to $65 a month (and up to $150 for ultra-high speed plans). Know that many providers offer an introductory monthly rate that will be raised after 6-12 months, so make sure you factor that into your comparison. Here are some links to the pricing pages for some of the largest providers to help get you started:
Note that while a handful of DSL providers may offer broadband access in your area, usually only 1 cable provider will offer access. So if you know that Comcast is your area’s cable provider, there’s no need to go to any other cable provider websites to check prices. Conversely, it’s a good idea to quickly check all of the DSL providers since multiple companies may offer service in your location.
Once you have an idea of basic service costs, get firm numbers on the costs for installation and any required equipment rentals (modems, etc.) by calling the providers. Installation is one area where providers have traditionally offered deals.
It may feel strange, but don’t be afraid to ask for a discount on installation if one is not being offered. Broadband is very competitive right now and with new technologies like Fios and U-verse offering a 3rd alternative to cable and DSL, you might be surprised at how quickly you can swing a deal by simply asking for one.
The final cost step is to see about getting a service bundle or package, which are increasingly popular amongst service providers. Most bundles combine phone, TV and internet service, and offer have an introductory price for the first 6-12 with significant savings (30-40%) and then a longer term rate that offers savings of 10-20% over buying the services individually.
The trick with bundles is to refrain from purchasing services you don’t need just to get the bundle pricing. So if you don’t need/want landline telephone service, don’t buy a bundle that requires you to get a landline phone, etc. Also, get out a few months worth of bills for the services you are consider bundling to ensure that the bundle price will save you money.
This category is unique in that it may actually help you make your broadband choice easier. Some newer broadband technologies are simply not available in all areas like Verizon Fios and ATT U-verse, so you may be able to narrow your choices simply due to availability. Use the links in the “Cost” section to explore which broadband technologies and providers are available in your area.
If your idea of a location isn’t one fixed point, you might want to check out the wireless broadband plans that are offered by cell phone companies. While the speeds offered currently can’t match cable or DSL, they are still faster than dial-up, and can offer a nice compromise for broadband users on the go.
There’s nothing here that should be a deal breaker, so you can move through this category pretty quickly. Despite advertisements to the contrary, there aren’t a lot of “features” that are different amongst broadband plans. Some companies may throw in a free wireless router as part of their service, and while that’s a good deal and could serve to break a tie between 2 plans that seem equally attractive, it shouldn’t be a main deciding factor.
Know that cable companies are still claiming a lot of “feature” advantages over DSL that are simply not true anymore (read more about that here). Also know that most claims of security advantages by individual providers are bogus. If you are connected to the Internet and your computer is not properly protected with a hardware/software firewall and anti-virus/spyware software, it is at risk, despite the safety features claimed by your provider.
The only feature that is certainly important and different amongst the various providers is called “throttling”. Throttling is when a provider limits the speeds of certain high-bandwidth users. Providers who engage in this activity claim it is because they want to optimize their network and make sure that a few individuals aren’t hogging most of the available bandwidth. That logic is debatable and it is not clear how a provider determines who is a high-bandwidth user and who is not, so in general you don’t want a provider who throttles.
Though some providers have been identified as using a throttling (i.e. Comcast), not enough is known about which service providers throttle and which do not to use this as a deciding factor in selecting a broadband plan. Just be aware of it and check back here frequently for more information.
Lets just go ahead and get this out of the way: if you want the fastest broadband connection available regardless of any other factors, you want Verizon Fios. Done deal, end of story.
The top end Verizon Fios speeds for just their basic service are 10mb/s up and 2mb/s down, which just blows away cable, DSL and even ATT U-verse. And if you are willing to pay up, 20 mb/s in both directions is available.
Conversely, if you don’t really care about speed and just want cheap service that’s faster than dial-up, you should go with entry-level offerings from DSL providers. Entry level DSL is generally 756kb/s up and 250kb/s down, which is comparatively slow, but will probably only run you only $20-$25 per month.
If you’re somewhere in between wanting super fast (Fios) and super cheap (entry-level DSL), then both cable and DSL providers usually offer multiple speed levels at different price points. Before Fios, cable had become the preferred choice for speed over DSL, but the truth is that they can both offer comparable speeds.
They can both be good choices, and selecting cable over DSL and vice versa may have more to do with the type TV service you have (cable or satellite) and whether or not you have a landline phone. Obviously cable TV users are often interested in cable Internet for bundling purposes and landline phone users are more often more interested in DSL for the same reason
For both cable and DSL, speed levels for downloads are usually 1.5mb/s, 3.0mb/s and 6.0mb/s respectively, with uploads ranging from 756kb/s to 1.5mb/s. Note that these are advertised speeds, and that there sometimes is a big difference between what you’re paying for and what you’re getting (for more on that discussion, click here).
Although it’s important to select a speed level initially, it’s more important to monitor the actual speed you’re getting for a few days once your broadband is up running. That way you can ensure that you’re not overpaying for a speed level that, due to a high number of Internet users in your area, you never achieve. Use the Internet Speed Test link on each page of High Speed Experts to test your actual connection speed and call your provider to adjust your plan accordingly.
Just like with Extras, you shouldn’t spend nearly as much time here as you do on Cost and Speed. However, it is important that you don’t sign-up for the broadband equivalent of a lemon. Ideally your broadband Internet connection should require very little interaction between you and the service provider after it is up and running.
Unfortunately, as with many other services and products, that is sometimes not the case. We do our best here at Experts to stay on top of who does a good job with installations and handling problems and warn you if we know of companies that are providing poor or less than reputable service. We also have some tips to help you get the best, most prompt service in the event that things are not working as they should.
Know that for the most part, quality of service can be hard to predict. People will evaluate a company based on their own experience and rightfully so. We will continue to keep our ears to the ground to look for patterns of bad experiences and do our best to keep you informed.
So now you have the basics on C-LESS and know what to look for with broadband. If you’re thirsting for my knowledge on the different broadband technologies, check out our detail pages here: DSL, Cable, Fios, Wireless.