(Excerpt from the Fresno Bee article "No free ride when surfing the Internet" by Benjamin Seto, July 17 1995)...Daniel Birchall, a Burlington, N.J.-based consultant specializing in the Internet, offered these tips on choosing a service:
Connectivity. Find the provider with the fastest and most-direct access to the Internet. More bandwidth - the capacity level of data travel - is a key for efficiently surfing the Net.
Most providers have at least one "T1" line - the equivalent of 24 phone lines.
"A good provider would have two or three T1 lines," said Birchall. "Each line should go to a different backbone of the Internet so if one network goes down, the whole ISP [Internet service provider] won't be affected."
Modem radio. Some companies might not disclose this information, but Birchall said it is worth finding out the provider's ratio of users to modems.
Each caller is connected to a modem that routes the user on his or her way to the Internet. As more users pile onto a modem, the access becomes slower as the modem deals with the heavier load.
The industry standard is about 10 users per modem, or sometimes as high as 12-to-1. Some Fresno providers say they are committed to an 8-to-1 ratio.
Birchall said a user can tell whether a service could be hampered by a high user-modem ratio by hints such as busy signals or continuous rings with no answer.
"Any degradation in service is an indication that the ISP [Internet service provider] is oversold or under-supported."
Billing. Many Internet service providers are following the trend of offering flat rates and unlimited hours on the Internet. While that sounds attractive, Birchall offers a word of caution.
"It's unlimited hours, but that's only when they can get on," he said, adding that providers offering a chunk of Internet access up front and per-hour fees thereafter are usually the ones generating the revenue needed to support better service.
Technical Support. Surfing the Net can get harried if you catch a big wave and crash. So technical support is an important service to look for from Internet service providers.
Some providers offer 24-hour support, but Birchall said that doesn't mean much if only one person is handling all the calls.
Other companies are beginning to offer help on-line, but Birchall noted: "If you're having trouble getting on-line in the first place, you'll have no use for it."