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How your ISP matters

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

How your ISP matters

Bit Player for June 22, 1997

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1997, The Syracuse Newspapers

Does it matter which Internet service provider (ISP) you use?

Yes, it matters a lot. But only in a couple of ways.

Last week I explained how your choice of an ISP—and, indeed, whether you are even connected to your own ISP—matters not at all in many operations.

Your choice of an ISP can be a dreadful mistake if the ISP cannot provide regular service. That's obvious.

"Regular service" means the phone lines aren't busy most of the time, that the ISP's customer-service people respond to voice calls and e-mail letters, and that the ISP is willing to work hard to keep its own connections working. (Nearly all Internet Service Providers lease their high-speed connections from someone else. These connections can get messed up now and then. When they do, you can't get onto the Internet from your lower-speed connection.)

Another factor is whether your ISP provides a full Internet feed. Except for AOL, nearly all ISPs provide a standard Web connection. (AOL's Web connection goes through AOL's own servers, which slows you down and limits what you can do. As I have said each time I write about AOL and the Web, if you are paying $20 a month for an AOL Internet connection, you might as well get a real one; it won't cost any more.)

But what about a news server? I tried out a new local ISP and found the service was everything the company said it would be—fast and easy to log onto. What the company didn't mention in its brochure was the fact that it didn't have its own news server.

If you're resourceful, you may be able to log onto one of the free-access news servers on the Internet. (Many users don't realize that they can get their Usenet news feeds from any server. The problem is that most of the free-access servers have been closing their gateways to outside users because of the overload.)

The new local ISP did have a link to a news service of a sort, but it was not a standard news server unless you paid extra for the news feed. (No thanks.)

What about modem speeds? All providers run at least as high as 28.8 kbps. And most are installing (or have already installed) 33.6 kbps modems. But if you've just bought a 56 kbps modem, you'll want an ISP that already offers or plans to offer 56k service. (On the other hand, you'll also want to know that tests of 56k modems have shown that actual transmission speeds may be lower than you'd get from 33.6k modems. The 56k models need really clean phone lines; if they don't have clean lines, they step down in speed during the call. This can put them in the low 20s within a few minutes. Be warned.)

Another area where your choice of an ISP can matter is in the gray area of hucksterism. I think an ISP should be like the floor, always there when you need it but never in your face when you don't. I particularly resent ISPs that make newcomers believe the only way to get onto the Web is through a particular browser, or the only way to get e-mail is through some sort of hick software the ISP got for free from a weirdo company in Borneo. Honesty is very important, and that means not misleading people.

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