What to Consider
At first, choosing an ISP may seem pretty straightforward, merely focusing on speed, price, types of SLAs (Service Level Agreements), and types of networks (T1, DSL, Fiber, etc.). However, there are many other factors to consider, such as the geographic coverage of the ISP, their security services, their customer service and technician availability, their average yearly downtime, data caps, contract length, any bundles that are offered, and finally the Internet requirements of your business (now and into the future).
Types of Networks
For which type of network you wish to go with, many options provide certain advantages and disadvantages. While one can choose DSL, cable, or even dial-up, fiber-optic is the king as it is the most reliable and fastest connection. It is important to note that fiber isn’t available everywhere, and running new lines can be quite costly. If there is fiber already near the area, you can typically talk to the other businesses near you to see if they wish to band together, so to speak, to help pay for the upgrade to fiber for the selected region. While fiber is excellent, having redundancy is even better. For our business, we are looking to have two separate fiber lines connecting our business, so if one fails, the other takes over; eliminating downtime due to an outage.
What do you Need?
Figuring out which network you wish to go with comes down to what your company’s present and future internet needs are. You do not want to pay too much for what you don’t use, or not get enough to satisfy your demand. If you are a small 2-man operation, for example, 15-25Mbps might be sufficient. However, for a larger company which is rapidly growing, a fiber-served area might be needed, boasting 500Mbps to 1Gbps plans. Do your homework before you get into the meeting; otherwise, an ISP might try to sell you an expensive plan you don’t need.
Next, even with an internal IT team or member at your company, they can not do much regarding an internet outage at an ISP level. For this, you will want to check how the ISP’s customer service and technicians are rated, what their availability is, and if 24/7 on-site and tech support are provided for free. Any downtime of an ISP is money lost for your company.
Speaking of downtime, while most ISP’s promise a near-perfect uptime (the percentage of time that the Internet works), there are always events that cannot be predicted or avoided. You may have heard of the quest for ‘five 9’s’ in the IT community, which is trying to achieve 99.999% uptime (only 5.26 minutes of downtime a year). So, this is where an SLA comes into play. In an SLA, you are signing a contract that ensures that the agreed upon uptime is met, and if it doesn’t, the ISP will have to compensate you accordingly. Also, in the SLA, there will be details about a contract length (the time you are obligated to stay with the ISP). Pay attention to this and look for whether there is an early termination fee or if after the initial contract ends, the price rises substantially (it happens a lot).
Finally, just like with any business agreement, the fine print is often the most frequently troublesome area. Whether it is TOS (Terms of Service), acceptable use policies (cover the rules of how you can use the data), or bandwidth caps or limits, this is where an ISP will try to add in hidden charges.
Choosing an ISP for a business does not have to be as stressful as it sounds, as long as you do your research beforehand and walk into the meeting with confidence. Most often than not, ISP’s meet with individuals who have little to no knowledge of what their company needs are and ISP’s see that as a wounded animal waiting to be killed. Well, maybe it isn’t that dramatic, but the reaction from getting your first bill from an ISP with hundreds of hidden charges can be enough to make you feel more than wounded.
To summarize, know what you want, what your company needs, your company’s growth potential, what ISP’s you have to choose from, what they offer, and how they offer it. Ask questions, share example scenarios with them (such as what happens during a power outage), and never settle. Pro tip, if you are in an area with more than one ISP to choose from (we don’t have that many), ISP’s, like any company, can typically reduce their prices if necessary. Haggling is any business man’s best friend. Suggesting to an ISP what their competitors are offering you is a great way to get the bid lower. Hope this helps!