GUIDE How to Choose a Broadband Internet Provider - Page 3 - UK ISPreview
GUIDE How to Choose a Broadband Internet Provider
By: Mark Jackson - September 5th, 2011 : Page 3 -of- 8
"Sadly most of the big mainstream providers will lock you into contract terms of at least 12 to 18 months"

broadband priceAs a side note, many people also like to take additional features, such as website hosting and or email. ISPreview.co.uk recommends using an external freemail provider (e.g. Gmail, Hotmail) or dedicated web host for these services as they're often more reliable and better equipped. Becoming dependent upon your ISP for email or hosting could make switching services later a lot more hassle (i.e. you will probably lose the old address).

Contracts and Bundles

The next consideration is whether or not to take a bundle of services (e.g. broadband and phone) or just a standalone internet access solution. Bundles can be considerably cheaper and may give you more (e.g. bigger usage allowances, extra free calls etc.) than if you were to take the services separately, although most of the mainstream providers will offset some of the savings by reducing your flexibility to switch provider via longer contract terms.

Contract length is an important consideration because they are designed to tie you down to a single operator, which can cause problems, especially if you end up being dissatisfied with a service or want to move home into an area where your current ISP may be unavailable; customers under contract might be forced to pay a hefty exit fee.

The regulators (Ofcom) view of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations Act 1999 is that consumers who end contracts early should never have to pay more than the payments left under their contract – in fact they should ideally pay less. Recent rulings against BT, TalkTalk and Virgin Media have attempted to make this process fairer (see details) but you should still take time to consider whether or not you're likely to switch ISP or move home in the future before picking any service with a lengthy contract term.

Sadly most of the big mainstream providers will lock you into contract terms of at least 12 to 18 months. Ofcoms latest rules (here) state that no ISP can tie you down for a period of over 24 months. Thankfully there are plenty of ISPs around that do have sub-12 month contract terms, such as O2 , Be Broadband and PlusNet. You might incur some extra setup or service fees as a result of going this route but the added flexibility to easily escape a service should never be underestimated.

In short, only pick a bundle if you feel confident enough that the ISP can deliver a good service (it's sometimes worth trying their standalone broadband first before upgrading to a bundle later) and have no plans to move home or change ISP again in the near future. Otherwise consider taking a shorter contract or more flexible standalone service.

Speed and Performance

Connection speed has historically been one of the internet industry's most hotly debated topics, often because what an ISP advertises (e.g. 'up to' 24 Mbps / Megabits per second) can be a million miles from the performance that you will actually receive. Likewise the terminology involved (e.g. Megabits and "up to") frequently causes additional confusion. Firstly there are two types of speed, "download" (aka - downstream) and "upload" (aka - upstream).

* Download performance means information that is being taken from the internet and sent to your computer, which is critical for the majority of online tasks (e.g. viewing websites, emails, videos etc.).

* Upload performance covers information that is sent from your computer to the internet, such as when sending a photo to a website or one of your friends.

Upload speed is less important for most people, unless you're heavily into uploading your own videos, photos or other content to online services (e.g. Facebook, YouTube).

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