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Picking An Internet Service Provider...

See also - hosting, your web site, net start-ups, bizplan

The List

Spend much time on the Net and it won't be long before you start running into Meta Lists - enormous collections of links to pages devoted to specific topics.

In the case of The List, the subject is Internet Service Providers and companies that provide web hosting services, a topic many people are interested in.

On the surface, a site like The List appears to be a gem. If you live in the United States, type in your zip code and pull up a lengthy list of ISP's in your area and some basic stats, including modem speeds supported, prices and contact info.

What's missing?

With nearly 50,000 ISP's operational in the United States alone - you need more to go by. You want the hardcore details - the details a potential investor would demand before putting money into the company. (Which when you think about it, is exactly what you're doing when you sign up as a customer.)

How dependable is service? How many customers does the ISP have? How many POP's (phone numbers)? What plans does the company have for expansion?

Unfortunately, not many companies are willing to divulge these details - this is not the sort of stuff corporate America is used to giving out to the public of it's own free will.

Happily, the information you need is out there waiting for you. It just may take a little time to turn up the facts you need.

Don't expect to learn much from sources like your local newspaper or from high profile computer industry publications and web sites. Both types of publication rely on advertiser revenues and are by and large unwilling to do anything that might irritate a current or potential advertiser.

Unless you know somebody in the Industry who's opinions you trust, your best source of information is likely to be your fellow Netizens.

If you're dealing with a large company, it's a safe bet there is a discussion group run by people interested in the topic. The ISP may even have a discussion area where customers are allowed to raise their concerns - from questions about service to FAQs devoted to technical issues. (A good many don't have such areas. For obvious reasons.)

Do your homework before you sign on with an access provider and you'll probably avoid many of the nasty problems people complain about when they talk about ISPs.

If the research involved sounds like more trouble than it's worth, you're probably better off sticking with one of the larger, more established players.

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