How to Shop For Internet Service
For most consumers, finding the best deal on internet and TV service is a headache.
Not only are most plans hard to understanding but their pricing complex.
Whether you’ve just moved to a new area or you’re just looking to reduce your cable internet bill, getting the best deal on internet service really comes down to 4 steps.
- Understanding What You’re Buying
- Understanding What Your Family Needs
- Understanding What To Compare
- Comparing Plans and Providers in Your Area
- Setting Up Service
1) Understanding What You’re Buying
Whether you’re looking to get the best service or the lowest price, you MUST understand what you’re buying to get the best deal.
As you may have noticed, internet companies love to come up with new cool sounding names such as Xfinity, Verizon Fios, or AT&T U-verse, to make their service stand out and their marketing appear different.
…But, when you boil it all down each company really offers the same base service.
Each company simply connect your household to the internet.
Yes, each company may use a different underlying technology such as Cable, Fiber, or DSL but in the end they are in the business of delivering data to your household.
Sometimes this data is a “Digital TV” package that includes a list of channels, or it can be a just a plain internet connection… but when it really comes down to it each company just connects you to the internet and delivers data.
2) Understanding What Your Family Needs
Internet plans and packages come in a few different flavors.
Some plans are internet only, others include TV, and others include home phone service.
What your family needs when it comes to TV and internet access will likely vary, so before we get into what to compare across plans get clear on what your household uses.
My household is signed up on a “double play” plan including TV and Internet access.
My parents still have a home phone, so they have TV, Internet and phone.
My son who is in college, only watches stuff on Youtube and Netflix so we have him on an internet only plan.
3) Understanding What To Compare
Once you’re clear on what your family needs, take a glance a the services below as they cover the important elements you should compare for each service.
When it comes to internet service, there are 5 elements that you’ll want to compare.
- Download Speed: Represented in megabits per second (mbps) is how fast your connection is. The higher this number the most data you can download.
- Upload Speed: Also represented in mbps, the higher this number the more data you can upload. For the typical household, 5–10mbps upload is more than enough. If you upload a lot of movies or do video work, then you may want more.
- Modem Rental Costs: Generally internet service providers like to hit you with a modem cost. That said, it is important to realize that in most cases it is better in the long run to buy your own modem if you plan to be with a company for 2–3 years.
- Data Cap: In some areas providers limit the amount of data you can use a month. If you watch a lot of Netflix or download a lot via torrents make sure to pay attention to data caps.
- Technology Type: The final element to take note of is the technology the internet service is delivered. While most companies will mention “fiber optics” (the fastest technology for broadband) in their marketing, specifically look for “Fiber to the Home” as this means the fiber is delivered directly to your house. Verizon Fios is a good example of a Fiber to the Home provider.
For TV service, there are at least 4 elements that you’ll want to keep in mind.
- Number of Channels You Watch: Cable companies like to boast packages with tons of channels. That said, your family probably only watches a handful. Before buying any package, keep a log of which channels your family already watches the most.
Once you know which channels you watch then you’ll be in a better place to see which channel packages are good for you and which aren’t.
- Premium Channels: As you do your channel inventory check and see whether your family uses different premium channels or not as these often add to the overall monthly price.
- DVR / Cable Box: With most TV packages you’re also going to need equipment such as a DVR or cable box. While pricing for each of these vary from company to company, they do impact your overall monthly price.
- HD TV Cost: Another fee to keep an eye out for is the HD TV cost. Many companies include this as a monthly ‘upcharge’ for delivering HD content. Check your bill as this affects your overall monthly price.
If your family still uses a traditional home phone, then there are 2 key elements you’ll want to compare:
- Unlimited or Fixed Minutes: Most home phone plans come in 2 different varieties. Unlimited minutes and packaged minutes. With unlimited minutes you can call as much as you want, with packaged minutes you get a set number of minutes a month.
- International Calling: The other important factor in a home phone plan is the international calling. If you call internationally to friends and family via your home phone, make sure to check out what the associated costs are.
4) Comparing Plans and Providers in Your Area
Now that we’re clear on what you should compare when shopping providers and plans, it is time to see what plans are in your area.
Starting out I recommend you check out these 2 sites to find the providers in your area:
- BroadbandNow.com – Is the “big dog” in the space when it comes to finding providers in your area. They also list plans but primarily focus on internet access. Use them to find the providers in your area.
- ProvidersByZip.com – This is a relatively new website that differs from BroadbandNow in that it not only shows you internet plans but also other packages that include TV and Internet. While it doesn’t appear that their database is as large as BroadbandNow’s they do a pretty good job of helping you compare plans across providers.
Once you’ve visited the sites above to see which providers are in your area, feel free to compare plans on the sites above, on this site (for Verizon and AT&T), or by visiting the provider’s website directly as plans often vary from region to region.
If you are looking for more than just internet access, make sure to compare bundle plans as they often offer incentives for buying multiple services or signing a contract.
5) Sign Up For Service
Once you’ve compared every plan and provider, sign up for service.
You can do this online via the company’s website or by calling an authorized retailer but before you do 2 things to consider: Contract and Total Monthly Cost.
Contracts and Incentives
Depending on what internet providers are available in your area, you’ll likely have the option to sign a contract or to go month-to-month.
Many times plans with contracts offer better incentives such as rewards cards, free service, or a discounted rate.
While these rewards can be great, make sure you understand the contract length and early termination fee.
Each week, it seems that customers email us saying that they got charged for canceling their contract.
Before you sign up for a contract, make sure you understand how long you are signing up for and if there is a fee for canceling early.
Because chances are, if you are considering a plan that includes a rewards card, then that plan likely includes a contract.
Always Consider Total Monthly Cost
As you compare plans across companies, always consider your total monthly cost. Sure one company may have a lower advertised rate, but if you dig deeper into the details, you may see that with your DVR, Modem, and other associated fees one company may actually be cheaper.