To connect your computer to the Internet, you'll need an Internet Service Provider, or ISP.
Some ISPs are large and well known, while others are literally one-person operations.
Some companies limit their service to providing Internet access only.
Others, like telephone or cable companies, may offer Internet access as part of a larger package of services.
You may also have access to fiber-optic service in your community. It is important to compare service providers and options to make sure you are getting what you want and the best deal possible to meet your needs.
If you have limited Internet expertise, you may want to start with one of the well-known ISPs. They usually offer user-friendly startup software. This software often includes such features as a browser, instant messaging, parental controls and pop-up blockers. Many also offer 24-hour technical support. Of course, all of this convenience results in higher monthly user fees. Once you are comfortable with how the Internet works, you may discover you don't need all the extras and can switch to a lower-cost ISP.
Whatever your present level of expertise, you will want to consider these factors when selecting a provider:
- Speed. If all you want to do is check email and read Web pages, a dial-up connection may be enough. But most people also want to download music or television shows or watch videos. For these, you will need a faster connection with broadband access, like a digital subscriber line (DSL), a cable modem or satellite
- Availability. For dial-up service, is there a local phone number for access?
- Wireless access. Can you get a wireless connection for other computers in your home?
- E-mail. How many email accounts come with the service? What will be the storage limit on your mailbox? How many days does the ISP keep your mail before deleting it?
- Website space. Do you want to create a personal website? If so, find out whether your provider offers web space and software to create your page.
- Software. Is there any software required to activate the service? How do you get it? What is the capacity of the software? Can you use whatever browser or email program you'd like?
- Support. What kinds of support are available: phone, email, chat, etc.? What are the hours of support? Are there any additional charges for support?
- Special features. What services are provided in terms of spam blocking, virus protection, instant messaging and chat rooms?
- Terms of service. Is there a limit to the number of hours per month you can use the service?
- Cost. What is the monthly fee for the service? Are there any additional equipment or setup fees? What is the fee for extra email accounts?
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