OK, maybe “lies” is a little harsh. But it’s a rough and rugged world of Internet service providers out there, and everyone wants your business. Here are our top 5 least favorite sales tactics that you might run into when shopping for Internet service.
In fact, somewhere beyond your premises, all Internet service is shared. That’s why it’s call Internet. Whether you have fiber service, DSL, or cable service, your traffic will travel along the same conduits as that of other people and businesses. What really matters is if your access into that shared network is via a wide open parkway or a congested side street; “shared” versus “not shared” doesn’t tell the whole story.
Given that all networks are shared “upstream” somewhere in your Internet service provider’s infrastructure, the key question becomes this: was the network designed with a lot of capacity upstream—enough to provide good service even when all of the ISP’s customers are burning up their connections—or was it designed with just enough capacity to get by most of the time? If it’s the latter, you may start to see degraded service during times when your ISP’s network is busy in your area.
Generally, you pay more for services that provide you access via the “wide open parkway” of conservatively-designed networks.
This one could also be called “rated speed isn’t everything.” Every Internet service out there comes with some statement about how fast it is: “up to 300 Mbps”, “fastest Internet in Austin,” whatever.
Those numbers and statements pretty much never tell you the whole story about what you’re getting.
First of all, most of those statements about speed on commodity Internet services (be they cable modems, DSL, or fiber services) have the infamous “up to…” qualifier. Up to 300 Mbps. What this means is that the connection is set to never let you get more than 300 Mbps—that’s really it. How much speed you will actually see depends on a lot of things: not only how Internet services are all “shared” at some level (as we referenced in tactic #1), but also how speed ratings have different implications depending on whether the Internet is cable modem, consumer-grade fiber, or enterprise-grade fiber. In practice, for example, you’re much more likely to get your rated speed on a shiny new fiber optic network that was designed with speed in mind versus older networks that may not have been.
Second, many Internet services—especially cable and DSL services—are asymmetrical in nature. So, you can get up to 300 Mbps if you’re downloading something, but maybe only 15 or 20 Mbps if you’re sending data out. More modern services like fiber Internet services are generally symmetrical, so you get the same rated speed in both directions. Depending on how your business uses technology, this can be a huge difference.
I want to start this point off by saying that there are lots of good, qualified ISP sales people and account managers out there who really do have their prospective clients’ best interests in mind and who really are domain experts in the telecom field. IT Freedom has good relationships with many ISPs, and because we work with ISPs so often, we are in the enviable position of having great representation from the ISPs with whom we partner. We appreciate working with these folks every single day.
That being said, there are also unfortunately a lot of people in ISP sales departments whose only job and concern is doing just that: selling. And in lots of cases, they are equipped with the latest marketing materials, sales quotas, and maybe not much else. In those cases—and we speak from experience here in defending (that’s what it sometimes feels like, anyway) our clients from these sales tactics—you really need someone technically qualified on your side to advise on what services actually make sense for your business.
I’m sure that I’ve seen this on a billboard somewhere in town. The important thing to remember here is that there are a lot of qualifiers and fine print associated with a statement like that: “most reliable per a particular, vetted set of criteria and according to a particular set of data that may or may not be comprehensive” might be more accurate.
I can pretty much guarantee though that the absolute most reliable Internet service in Austin isn’t whatever service’s billboard said that. It was an enterprise-grade service that was designed specifically for reliability because reliability really, really matters for whoever is using that service. The kind of strong claims about reliability (like the one mentioned above) speak to scenarios where downtime is measured by the thousands of dollars or worse.
To the marketing department that came up with that billboard, I’m missing the point. They were coming up with an ad for maximum impact, and of course they were only talking about “most reliable” amongst similarly priced and similarly widespread services. Fair enough. But that’s not always very helpful for actual businesses. It’s better to start from your business requirements and work forward to what service is best for supporting your specific needs. Sometimes, it might even be two services. Redundancy is increasingly affordable and can mitigate a lot of business risk.
It is true that you can generally get a lower monthly rate by signing up for a multi-year term contract on Internet service, but you should consider the implications carefully.
First, Internet service is generally getting cheaper all the time for what you get. You may not be paying less than you were 5 years ago, but hopefully you’re getting a lot more bandwidth for your money. Term contracts usually lock you into a particular speed of service for a particular monthly rate, which can look good upfront because you pay less per month than you would on a short or month-to-month term. In few years, though, that picture may not be so favorable. Incremental speed upgrades aren’t guaranteed, plus you’re bound to that particular ISP unless you’re willing to pay a large fee to break the contract.
Be careful to consider what service you’re looking at with regard to long-term contracts right now as well. If you need to sign a 3-year agreement to get high-speed fiber service built into your location, that might be a great call. A 3-year agreement on a lesser service when fiber might be available from another provider in 6 months?Not so much.
Finally, keep in mind that phone service is increasingly being bundled along with Internet service, particularly in the small business market. (So be aware that term contracts may also bind you to that vendor for phone service.) With the increasing prevalence of Internet-based communications like Google Hangouts, flexible VoIP systems replacing costly on-site PBXes, etc., consider what flexibility you may sacrifice with such commitments.
Alright, so we’ll admit that we’ve never seen any ISP make that kind of claim so overtly—though it may be suggested through some very deliberate (albeit often questionable) choices in stock photography.
The point is, however, that whether you’re searching for Internet service for yourself or your business, you should be an informed and discerning shopper, keen to the less-than-remarkable meanings behind some of the most common and alluring ISP sales tactics. Higher Mbps numbers aren’t always as sexy as they sound, and marketing materials don’t always tell the whole story.
If identifying the criteria that really matters to you, asking the right questions, and choosing a provider from there still feels daunting, consider us one of the following: your vest-clad tour guide through the dense rainforest, your shepherd through the rolling hills and valleys, the conga line leader at a wedding, or any other metaphor of your choice to help you navigate the overwhelming and often deceptive world of ISPs. And trust us: they aren’t all bad. In fact, we know, support, and can recommend some great ones.