Choosing an Internet Service Provider
|Shopping For an ISP
In order to get on the Internet you'll need an Internet Service Provider, which is known in the business as an "ISP". These are the folks that furnish you with a pipeline to the Net. There are about twenty ISPs in Hawaii alone and around 1500 on the mainland. What company should you choose for your ISP and what parameters do you even begin to think about?
We could discuss a plethora of things to look for in an ISP such as bandwidth, throughput, latency, etc. Chances are, these technical terms mean little if nothing to you. We'll skip the technical hype for a minute and get down to the brass tacks. The number one thing you'll need in an ISP, particularly if you're new to the Net, is good service. This means both a dependable company, that uses the latest technology, but just as importantly patient technical support people who will talk you through any problems. You may not need 24 hour a day service from technical support staff but you'll want people that will be there to help in a crunch. Rest assured, occasionally there will be problems with your computer, your modem or your communications software. (Hopefully though, not with your ISP!)
Note that Internet services range in price from $15 - $25 a month for unlimited access. Keep in mind that you get what you pay for. In my experience usually the lower the price, the less technical support services you can expect. The higher priced ISPs tend to spend more money on support personnel. If better service means paying a few more bucks a month, it will be money well spent.
As far as the technical aspects go, what you need to know about your ISP is: Do they support the latest X2 and K56flex standards? (There is also a new standard called V.90 but this has not yet been fully adopted. Sooner or later all Internet Service providers will utilize this standard as well). Just make sure that your new ISP can handle the type of modem you've purchased. You will also want a provider that has plenty of phone lines as well as bandwidth (capacity and speed) so that when you do log on you won't get busy signals and/or sluggish performance. Consistent busy signals are usually a red flag that means that the system is overloaded and that your ISP doesn't have the financial resources to ameliorate the problem. Of course, you won't know ahead of time if your ISP is going to be a dog. The best way to avoid that is to ask around. Word of mouth travels quickly in Hawaii and experienced users know who is good.
|Local Vs. National Providers
Ok, fine so whom do you then choose for your ISP? A Hawaii company or a mainland firm? All things being equal there is little difference between the technical performance of a good national company and a good local company. The prices for local firms are also competitive with the best national companies. Perhaps the biggest difference between local and national ISPs is service. A well-managed local company can be as good or often better that a national provider (such as AT&T, American Online or GTE).
Local firms can also provide value-added options other than good service. For example most local ISPs offer free web hosting services. Thus, if your business needs a web site, a local firm such as Pacific Area Networks, PixiNet, Inix, Hawaii Online or LavaNet will not charge extra to host it. (National firms such as America Online usually do not offer this). Other freebees that you can expect include message forwarding (which comes in very handy) and multiple email addresses. Local providers also might offer advantages for computer gaming enthusiasts such as Quake servers.
Kit Grant, a spokesperson for LavaNet, agreed that a local provider generally will go above and beyond the call of duty in an effort to help and keep a client. "Let's say," said Grant "that someone had a problem setting up their modem. Our people would even help an individual over the phone with an issue such as that." Grant pointed out that that it's also pleasant and practical for a Hawaii customer to do business with an informed, local tech support person who understands the nuances of Hawaii's infrastructure, rather than someone on the mainland.
If you ask John Strom, marketing director at Pacific Information Exchange (better known as PixiNet) what a customer should look for in an ISP he'll say reliability, connectivity, security and service. Strom points out that longevity in the Internet business is also important. "Internet start ups appear and disappear on the scene all the time. You should find out how long a company has been in business. You also might want to inquire as to whether they monitor their system 24 hours a day to ensure reliability", he said.
In our estimation, the only significant downside for using a local provider might be for customers who travel to the mainland or overseas a great deal. The reason is that a local provider may not be able to provide you with access numbers in other states or other countries. Thus if you are on a business trip and need to check your email in San Francisco or Tokyo, you may be out of luck with a local ISP. On the other hand the larger national companies such as America Online, AT&T, GTE, MSN or IBM provide international access numbers. (Local ISPs that utilize a service called "I-Pass" are able to get around this problem. So if you do travel a great deal and want to use a local ISP, ask if they have I-Pass.)
|The Bottom Line: Go Hawaiian
Our preference is to find a good Hawaii ISP and do business with them. Not only because we like the idea of spending money in the Aloha State but you can get local service that is more than competitive with quality national companies. As we stressed before, the best thing to do is ask computer literate friends what their experiences are like with local companies. Keep in mind that the least expensive ISP may not necessarily be the best deal.
Pacific Business News - Saturday June 13, 1998
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