What are the options and considerations when choosing an ISP?

There are three primary internet service providers (ISP) in the Licking County markets: the telephone company (Windstream or CenturyLink), the cable company (Time Warner) and Horizon. The telephone and cable companies have been in the area for decades. Horizon is new to this area and is in the process of building out a new fibre optic network throughout South Eastern Ohio. Other providers exist, but they generally lease network bandwidth from either the telephone company or the cable company.

The considerations for any ISP are reliability, availability, service, performance, and price.

Reliability – Internet connectivity is now a utility. It needs to be as reliable as any other utility. With any business, if the electricity, water, gas, or sewer utilities are unavailable, an organization’s ability to function is diminished. In today’s business environment, if internet connectivity is interrupted, the ability to function is diminished.

Availability – Different technologies inherently have different levels of availability. Networks using telephone lines or fibre optic cable are powered from central offices, which usually have battery backups and generators. Networks on copper coax (cable TV) need signal repeaters every half mile or so. If power to a repeater fails, the network past the repeater is unavailable.

Service – If there is an interruption in service, can you talk to a support person who is able to understand the problem you are describing?

Performance – There are several aspects in internet performance, in particular bandwidth and latency.

When choosing an ISP, the most critical question is bandwidth, usually measured in Kilobits per second (Kbps,) or Megabits per second (Mbps) where 1 Kbps is a thousand bits per second and 1 Mbps is a million bits per second.

In general, larger is better but more expensive.

Network bandwidth is often expressed as two numbers, for example “6Mb/768Kb”. In this example, the service provides 6Mbps downloading from the internet but only 768Kbps uploading to the internet.

To put this in perspective, a document (such as this one) that contains primarily text would take about 1/10th second to download, but 1 second to upload. A larger document containing lots of pictures or scanned text might take 7 second to download but 50 seconds to upload.

It is possible to get symmetrical network links that have the same bandwidth in both directions. Symmetrical network links are more expensive than asymmetrical links but have advantages when working with a remote server.

If the topic of network performance were not already complicated enough, there is another factor called “latency”. Latency is a measure of how long it takes for a network message (packet) to get from one location to another. Latency is a function of how network messages are routed from one location to another. In Newark, for example, a network message between a Windstream customer and a Time Warner customer might be routed from Newark to Cleveland to Washington DC to Cleveland to Newark. This will take measurably longer than transferring data between two sites which use the same ISP.

Price – The factors that determine network price are bandwidth, asymmetrical or symmetrical, distance from the central office, and competition. The only way to get an accurate cost is to get quotes from multiple vendors with several different network bandwidths.