Is Local Better Than Big Names? How to Select the Right ISP

Navigating the digital world is like sailing through an ocean, and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are the container that keeps the system afloat. ISPs grant us access to the internet by providing the necessary infrastructure for checking out our favorite websites, sending emails, and performing various online tasks at record-breaking speeds.

You’ve probably heard of the big players like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon for home use, and CenturyLink or Cox Business for corporations.

These giants may seem to have a monopoly on the market. But they’re not your only option. Local ISPs are the hidden gems that offer a unique blend of services that can often match or even outdo their big-name counterparts.

An ISP Offers More Than Just Internet

Internet Service Providers, commonly known as ISPs, are companies that provide services for accessing and using the internet. They come in various forms, such as commercial, community-owned, non-profit, or privately owned. ISPs hit the public market in the 1980s and created a boom of new digital opportunities for businesses and individuals alike.

They play a crucial role in making the internet accessible by offering highly technical services that connect computers to the internet, ensuring users can surf the web, stream videos, play online games, and more.

ISPs can be categorized into three tiers based on their network’s size, scope, and control:

Tier 1 ISPs

Tier 1 ISPs are top-tier internet providers with a global presence. They own networks that span across countries and continents, ensuring seamless international connectivity.

Unlike lower tiers, they don’t incur costs for data transit as they exchange traffic directly with other Tier 1 networks. Notable examples include AT&T, CenturyLink, and Telia Carrier.

While tier 1 ISPs are much more expensive than lower tiers, they offer a powerful and reliable connection, which is critical for businesses with high traffic and bandwidth needs.

Tier 2 ISPs

Tier 2 ISPs are the middlemen of the internet world, bridging the gap between global and local connectivity. They maintain agreements with Tier 1 ISPs and other Tier 2 ISPs to ensure data reaches areas they don’t cover directly.

For instance, a Tier 2 ISP like Cogent Communications might pay AT&T (a Tier 1 ISP) to route some of its traffic across the globe, while also exchanging traffic directly with another Tier 2 ISP like KPN to enhance regional connectivity.

This blend of paid and free peering ensures a wider network reach.

Tier 3 ISPs

These are the smallest ISPs, usually operating within small regions or single countries. They purchase all their internet connectivity from Tier 1 and Tier 2 ISPs. Examples include local broadband and telephone companies.

As an example, let’s consider a local bookstore, “Hometown Books,” in a small town in the U.S. They need the internet to process transactions and manage their inventory.

They would likely use a Tier 3 ISP, such as a local broadband company, which provides them with internet connectivity. This Tier 3 ISP purchases its internet access from larger, Tier 1 or Tier 2 ISPs, allowing Hometown Books to stay connected despite being in a small, localized area.

Additional Services ISPs Provide

Beyond providing internet access, ISPs offer additional services that add value for their customers:

  • Email Accounts: Most ISPs offer email accounts to their users as part of the internet package. This service includes email storage, spam filters, and virus protection.
  • Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS): Some ISPs offer UCaaS, which integrates communication services like messaging, voice and video calls, and web meetings into a single platform.
  • Web Hosting: ISPs often offer web hosting services, which allow individuals or businesses to make their websites accessible via the World Wide Web.
  • Virtual Private Network (VPN): Some ISPs offer VPN services for enhanced security and privacy. A VPN creates a secure, encrypted connection, which is particularly useful when using public Wi-Fi networks.
  • TV and Telephone Services: Many ISPs offer bundled services, which can include digital TV and landline telephone services. These bundles can be cost-effective for users who need multiple services.

Moreover, many ISPs offer VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services.  However, to avoid issues such as dropped calls, businesses should consider their VoIP bandwidth requirements and whether the ISP can meet them.

In some cases, it may be beneficial to consider specialized VoIP providers. These providers often have more robust infrastructure dedicated to VoIP services, which can result in better call quality and lower costs.

Local ISPs vs National ISPs

A Local Internet Service Provider (ISP) is a company that provides internet services within a specific geographical area, such as a city or region. In contrast, a National ISP like Verizon offers services across the entire country, boasting a vast network and a wide range of services.

Benefits of a Local ISP

  • Personalized Customer Service: Local ISPs often provide more personalized customer service due to their smaller customer base.
  • Quick Issue Resolution: Being local, they can address and resolve connectivity issues more promptly.
  • Community Support: Often, local ISPs invest back into the community, contributing to local growth.

Choosing a local ISP can lead to a more individualized service experience. Their close proximity allows for quick resolution of issues, reducing downtime.

Furthermore, by choosing a local ISP, you’re likely supporting a business that gives back to your community, fostering local economic growth.

Drawbacks of a Local ISP

  • Limited Coverage: Local ISPs usually provide services within a limited area.
  • Potentially Slower Speeds: They may not offer the high-speed internet available from national ISPs due to resource limitations.
  • Fewer Services: The variety of services and packages offered might be less diverse compared to national ISPs.

While local ISPs offer certain advantages, their coverage is geographically limited, which could be a drawback if you move or need internet access in different locations. Additionally, their speeds and service options may not compete with larger, national ISPs.

Benefits of a Big-Name ISP

  • Widespread Coverage: National ISPs offer services across a broad geographical area.
  • High-Speed Internet: They often provide faster internet speeds due to access to more advanced technology.
  • Variety of Services: With resources to offer bundled packages, customers have numerous options to choose from.

Opting for a national ISP like Verizon can ensure reliable, high-speed internet across a wide coverage area. The variety of services and packages they offer allows customers to choose a solution that best fits their needs.

Drawbacks with a Big-Name ISP

  • Less Personalized Customer Service: With a vast customer base, you may not receive the same level of personalized service as with local ISPs.
  • Potential for Higher Costs: Often, the advanced services provided by national ISPs come at a higher price.
  • Contractual Obligations: Many national ISPs require long-term contracts, which might not offer the flexibility some customers need.

While national ISPs offer extensive coverage and high-speed internet, their large-scale operations can sometimes lead to less personal customer service. Also, the cost of their services may be higher, and they often require customers to commit to long-term contracts, which might lack the flexibility that some users prefer.

How to Select the Right ISP

Selecting the right Internet Service Provider (ISP) can be a daunting task, given the multitude of options available. Here are some key considerations for consumers looking for simple home internet:

  • Availability: Not all ISPs serve all areas. Check which ISPs provide service in your location.
  • Speed: Depending on your internet usage, you may require different speeds. For basic browsing and emailing, a speed of 5-10 Mbps should suffice. However, if you frequently stream videos or play online games, you might need speeds of 100 Mbps or more.
  • Price: The cost varies widely based on the speed and type of connection. Basic home internet services can range from $20 to $60 per month. Be sure to understand what’s included in the package and whether there are any additional fees.

Businesses have similar considerations but also additional factors to keep in mind:

  • Data Caps: Some ISPs impose limitations on the amount of data you can use in a month. Businesses, especially those that rely heavily on cloud services or video conferencing, should opt for plans without data caps.
  • Bundled Services: Many ISPs offer bundled services like email, web hosting, and VoIP. These can be convenient, but it’s crucial to assess the quality and cost-effectiveness of these services.

There are instances when businesses might want to consider providers other than their ISP for bundled services. For example, if an ISP’s VoIP offering is expensive or lacks desired features, businesses might explore specialized VoIP providers. These providers often offer more advanced features and competitive pricing.

Choosing the right ISP involves balancing various factors, including availability, speed, price, and additional services. Both individuals and businesses should carefully assess their specific needs to make an informed decision.