Internet users today have a wide range of choices in technologies and providers. Fiber optics technology puts yesterday’s dial-up service to shame, but is still not available everywhere. The ISP’s themselves can be very different as far as their pricing and services.

Many cable TV companies now provide broadband, while other companies may offer satellite or WiFi internet only. Here are some considerations in making the right choice.

1. Define Your Needs

What kind of internet service you choose should reflect your needs and budget. If you only want to look up information and exchange email, a slow dial-up or pay-as-you-go WiFi hotspot might be enough.

If you intend to stream video, play games, or provide internet access for your entire household, you’ll need something with greater speed and bandwidth, such as a cable connection. Businesses that need internet access for a large number of users should have a dedicated fiber optic line.

2. High Speeds

Satellite speeds are up to about 25 Mbps today. DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) and cable are considered broadband. DSL operates over digital phone lines at speeds of up to 100 Mbps. Cable companies use familiar coaxial connections which are usually attached directly to a modem. Cable is theoretically much faster, at up to 300 Mbps.

Fiber optic internet in Utah and elsewhere can be even faster at about 1 Gbps for residential lines, but 10 Gbps and even higher for business connections. Bell Labs has produced exceptional speeds. In normal use, however, you often may not come close to these limits.

3. Requirements

What you’ll need to get connected is also important to consider. Most cable companies only offer internet if you also use a bundled package that includes TV and phone service. Satellite service requires a dish antenna which may require a deposit or additional monthly charge. Other internet providers may oblige you to install proprietary software on your computer.

If you’re planning on a home WiFi network, you’ll need a WiFi router. Bandwidth is the range of frequencies your connection can handle. This typically suggests how many users your connection will accommodate. Normally, about 5 Mbps per user would suffice.

4. Customer Service

Good tech support and customer service are also important if you want to get the most from your internet provider. Reliability, maximum uptime, and the promptness and quality of help you receive are important, particularly if you’re doing business over the internet. The quality of service can vary widely between geographic locations.

Ask your friends and neighbors which ISP they use, and note the good or bad things they have to say about that company. If you already have internet service but want to switch, do some research online to find out exactly what prices and services your local ISPs offer, and check out some consumer reviews.

5. Location

Where you’re located may seriously impact your options. If you live in a heavily populated metropolitan area, you likely have a wide range of options. For rural residents, cable service may not be available, while fiber optic service is still not available in some suburban neighborhoods.

If you can’t get a direct broadband connection, you’ll have to rely on satellite service, WiFi, or dial-up. If you’re using phone lines to access the internet, be sure the phone number you’re connecting to is local, otherwise you may be paying additional charges for long-distance access.

With soaring populations and expanding internet use, the ISP industry has become much more competitive. Speed and coverage are gradually increasing while prices are slowly falling. Regrettably, you can’t find too many custom options, but by doing your research you can find some terrific deals.