providers are not created equal, nor do all businesses need the same
by Alan Zisman (c) 1996 First published
in Business in Vancouver
, Issue #354 August 6, 1996 High Tech Office column
decided to take the plunge and do the Internet thing. But how do you
go about it?
of us, it means
getting an Internet Service Provider (ISP)--a company that, for a
fee, lets your computer connect to its network, getting you onto the
been some consolidation
recently among ISPs, and several well-known Vancouver services have
been bought up by larger, out-of-town organizations. But Boardwatch,
a U.S.-based magazine for ISPs and computer bulletin boards, counted
5,000 ISPs in that country recently, compared to 3,000 six months
ago. In Vancouver, too, the number of services is still growing.
So how can
what makes a good ISP? First, let's narrow the question down a bit:
the needs of an individual or small business are different from those
of a big company.
travel a lot?
Will you need to be able to access the Internet from out of town?
For that, you'll be best off with one of the national or North
service providers, or with an international on-line service such as CompuServe
or Microsoft Network. iStar,
the Ottawa-based company that purch- ased three local ISPs, will soon
be announcing how its users will be able to access the Internet in
other Canadian cities where iStar has a presence. If, on the other
hand, you only need local access, you may be best served by a local
going to be
content with modem access? Alright, alright, no one's really
content with modem access to the Net, but are you planning for
access? An ISDN line from BC Tel can quadruple your access
speed--but only if your ISP supports it. Again, on-line services
and Microsoft Network offer such support now, as do some local
If this is in your plans, check whether your service provider can
options? Surrey's Cyberion, for example, offers
connection. Will higher-speed service cost more? How much more?
are the phone
lines? Ask around: in my experience, everybody's lines are jammed
in the early evening. How much time do you expect to typically use?
In some cases, a service offering a flat, monthly rate may be your
best bet, but if you only expect to access the Internet occasionally,
you'll be better off with a service that lets you pay by the
prepaying for a block of time.
general, local services
are cheaper than the services offered by the phone company, the
ISPs, or the on-line services, but cost may not be the only criterion.
Are there other fees? A setup charge, perhaps? Higher rates for peak
time usage? Extra charges to post your own Web page? The wide range
of fee structures makes it difficult to compare prices.
to get on the Web, can your ISP support you? Can it help you obtain
a domain name (something like www.biv.com)? Can it help you
design your Web site? Can you post your pages on their server? If
so, can you easily access it to make changes?
software does your
ISP provide when you open an account? Often, local ISPs provide a
diskette or two with software that's already configured for quick
and easy access to its service. Often, though, the software included
is a generation or two old: can you connect with other, newer software?
Also, some of the programs provided, such as the popular Netscape
Navigator or Trumpet Winsock, are shareware: you're expected
to pay a fee and register the software. Alternatively, some of the
national ISPs require that you use their non-standard software.
a Mac user,
does the ISP provide Mac software? And how about technical support?
You'll most likely need it, especially during that first week or so
when you're configuring your system, sending e-mail for the first
time, and so forth. Is it available when you need it--typically on
the weekend or after business hours? Will the ISP support the software
you want to use? What if you have a PC at work and a Mac at home?
As with other
services, get answers before getting locked into a commitment: changing
your e-mail address is not as easy as sending a change-of-address
card to Canada Post. Talk to the service provider, but also
try to talk to a few of its customers. And assume that your needs
will change: if you need more access, will this same service provider
still meet your requirements?