Whether your ISP is a match made in heaven or a vicious ball-and-chain you can't seem to get away from, Tom's Hardware wants to know what you think.
It's hard to imagine a world without the internet. Everyday tasks and interactions from reading the latest news, working, communicating, to watching movies and TV shows, streaming music and using social media -- it all exists because of the internet. You name it and it can be found or done on the internet, and our dependency upon it grows stronger with every new technology and convenience it creates for us.
For as long as the internet has existed, there has been someone bringing you the internet service; an unsung hero of sorts, with a relationship that can often feel similar to a long-term boyfriend or girlfriend. The Internet Service Provider (ISP) has been around since the beginning, and although the prices, technologies, availability and performance have all changed dramatically over the years, the ISP has always been there in one form or another.
ISP Pros And Cons
Like most good relationships, the one between consumer and ISP is great when the service works reliably at the expected performance levels. We order dinner, we go shopping, we watch movies, we play games. Things are clear and steady, no terrible surprises, and we can spend the whole day with our ISP happily. When the internet service is dependable, it can make us laugh and smile.
However, sometimes this relationship can feel like a bad one. There aren't too many good ISPs in your area, so you took what you could get. Your ISP isn't the fastest horse on the track, but its a cheap date. So you have to live with the service going missing for hours at a time with no explanation and you know your calls won't be answered or returned in a timely manner. These types of issues can sometimes leave you feeling pretty empty inside, or maybe even make you think about finding something better. So you wonder if there a perfect ISP out there.
Regardless of how your ISP can make you feel at times, the core services are what matters. Choosing the right ISP depends on understanding what the provider can offer you, what access type you'll be using, what charges you'll incur when you subscribe for a plan, and how your ISP will handle support and service issues.
ISP Access Types
Many ISPs offer several different levels of internet connectivity using a variety of technologies, including cable, fiber optics, DSL and satellite. Each of these delivery methods has a very distinct impact on the end-user experience, offering a wide range of speed and reliability.
For example, DSL service is a dedicated line and will therefore not be subject to bandwidth loss caused by "peak times" like its shared-connection cable counterpart. However, cable is inherently faster, and DSL speeds can also degrade as the distance between you and the target central office increases. Fiber optics provide the same dedicated line as DSL, sending the data signal over fiber optic glass cables instead of copper, making it significantly faster, but also more expensive.
However, oftentimes the choice of an access type might be limited to your geographic location as fiber, cable and even DSL might not be available in some remote or rural areas. This is when a satellite service might be the only viable option.
Things To Consider
The type of technology and ISP you choose will determine how reliable your service will be. Most broadband technologies rarely see downtime once deployed, but that doesn't mean they never have issues. DSL connections are subject to interrupted service at a higher rate than cable, and satellite options are among the least reliable internet signals available to consumers. Just as with connection speeds, you will pay higher prices for more reliable services.
The general rule of thumb when it comes to ISP pricing is the faster and more reliable the service is, the more expensive it will be. Users requiring higher bandwidth for streaming content or gaming usually look for cable or fiber optic services, but will pay considerably more for those options. Consumers looking to simply access the internet for information or basic tasks, such as email and web browsing, can find very affordable plans using DSL or satellite, but access speeds and uptime are significantly reduced compared to cable and fiber optic offerings.
Customer Service And Support
When choosing an ISP, it is not so much how often your service fails, but how your provider handles that failure; this is perhaps one of the most important factors when considering an internet service provider. Friendly support and speedy remediation go a long way with anyone who is victim of a service interruption, and no ISP is innocent of these types of occurrences. While some companies offer excellent customer service, some miss the mark on key considerations like convenience, response time and professionalism.
ISP Ratings: You Be The Judge
Whether your ISP is a match made in heaven or a vicious ball-and-chain you can't seem to get away from, Tom's Hardware wants your input. In the survey below, we are asking readers to tell us what you think about the internet service providers in the United States that you have used. We also want to know what considerations are most important to you when choosing a potential provider. Specifically, we would like you to rate the ISPs that you have had direct experience with as a customer and tell us what you like and dislike about them when it comes to reliability, price, performance and customer support. Please fill out the survey separately for each ISP that you would like to rate.
To complement the reader feedback we receive, we will be taking a closer look at several home user plans offered by the major players in the industry. Our plan is to analyze your ratings along with other statistics and data and share our findings with the Tom's Hardware community. We are going to follow up with an assessment of the leading ISPs and depending on the volume and quality of written feedback, we may even use your commentary in our upcoming ISP articles.
We ran a similar survey earlier this year on VPN services. Take a look to see how we used the reader input we received and to get an idea of what level of details we are looking for.
As you can see, we aren't looking for full-fledged reviews, just 1 to 5 star ratings on some of the most important factors and short comments on what you like and dislike about the services. Most importantly, please only rate the ISPs with which you've had direct experience.
We also realize that the list provided in the survey only represents a handful of ISPs available in U.S., so feel free to add the ISP you'd like to review in the "Other" box. Thank you in advance for helping out. You're not just helping us, but inevitably also other Tom's readers.
Derek Forrest is an Associate Contributing writer for Tom's Hardware. Follow him on Twitter.