Most of us would deem a broadband Internet connection as one of life's essentials, but that doesn't always mean we find it easy to come up with the money each month. If you're one of the 20% of Australians who has difficulty with paying your broadband bill, here are some simple tactics to help ease the pain.
We've already looked into many of the results from Whirlpool's Broadband Survey, but one question has particular relevance to Loaded. Respondents to the survey were asked whether they had difficulty in budgetting for their broadband each month. For many people, it wasn't a major issue: 15.6% said they wouldn't give a moment's thought to it, 22.7% said price wasn't a big concern, and 38.8% said paying for broadband generally wasn't an issue.
However, that did still leave more than 20% who did have problems paying their broadband bill. 18.9% said "there's room in the budget, but only just", and 2.9% said they had difficulty finding the requisite amount each month. If you fall into that category, we've got some suggestions to ease the burden.
Obviously, broadband is only one component of an overall household budget. If you're having trouble paying your broadband bill, you more than likely will be having problems with other expenses too, and a revamp of your overall spending habits could be in order. But here's some specific suggestions to ensure that you don't end up in a broadband black hole.
Make sure your plan offers shaping
Many ISPs offer shaping, where the speed of your connection is reduced once you've used your monthly download allowance. However, some still stick to imposing excess charges if you exceed that limit. If you're on a plan where excess charges apply, you can't predict how much you'll spend each month. Consider shifting to another provider if you can't get a shaped option from your current ISP.
Move away from prepaid if you can
While prepaid wireless broadband can be really handy for travellers, people who move frequently (such as students), or anyone who can't get approval for a contract broadband deal, it isn't the most cost-effective way to get Internet access in terms of what you actually pay per megabyte. If you want maximum value from your connection, ADSL remains hard to beat. The cheapest deals will often be for 24-month contracts, but you'll need to weigh that against the fact that you won't be able to take advantage of better deals during that time. A 12-month or month-to-month deal offers more flexibility.
Shop around and challenge your current provider
If you're on a super-cheap plan, you may well find that switching providers will get you a much higher download limit. If you're not on a long-term contract, a site such as Whirlpool's Broadband Choice is a great place to identify alternatives. Before switching, ring your current provider and see if they'll offer you a better deal; it's much more expensive for an ISP to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one, so you may score a better deal simply by asking.
Consider a naked connection
If money is tight, paying a separate fee for line rental isn't always the best choice. Our Planhacker guide to naked DSL outlines plans which offer a 'naked' service, where you pay purely for an Internet connection and then use VOIP services for phone calls (or just rely on your mobile). This won't always work out cheaper -- you need to analyse your own phone usage habits -- but it can be a better deal, especially if you're not a heavy phone user.
Take full advantage of your connection
Presuming you're not regularly running into shaping issues, don't forget that you can use your broadband connection for more than just browsing. Making calls via Skype is free if the person you're contacting also uses it, which can help reduce phone charges. Watching video online is much cheaper than having pay TV, especially if your ISP offers unmetered access to iView or other video services. You're paying for broadband, so make sure you maximise its potential.
What other tactics do you use to ensure you don't overspend on broadband? Tell us in the comments.
Lifehacker's weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.