Planhacker: Five Signs That An ISP Should Be Avoided

There are a lot of potential choices when it comes to internet service providers (ISPs), and everyone has different needs. But there are some clear indicators that you might be better off looking elsewhere.

Before signing up with any ISP, it always makes sense to do detailed research. Don't just look at the plan details on the company's own site; see how they compare by checking out relevant resources such as Lifehacker's Planhacker summaries (such as those for unlimited plans and naked DSL); Whirlpool's forums and annual survey; and customer satisfaction reports from the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

With that said, there are some clear 'red flags' in ISP plans that can mean it's better to look elsewhere straight away, rather than spending time investigating a particular plan or provider. Here are five indicators that instantly raise my hackles.

Nasty charges for excess downloads

While there are still a handful of unlimited plans on the market, most Australian broadband providers impose a monthly limit (which usually counts both uploads and downloads)., and that is unlikely to change. What you want to avoid in this scenario is an ISP that doesn't offer some kind of shaping option when you reach that limit.

No ability to shift plans

Usage patterns change over time. Many ISPs will ask you to sign up for a long-term contract, and that can make sense if you get a decent deal. However, if you can't easily change the download limit without being forced to sign a new contract, you might want to think twice.

Download limits below 2GB

This isn't so much a warning off individual ISPs -- nearly every major provider has a dirt-cheap offering with this kind of limit -- as a note that it makes no sense for anyone to take up a plan that is this restricted. Downloading patches and updates alone will easily suck up this much bandwidth, even if your relatives insist they only use email and a little Facebook.

Speed limits on P2P connections

Not everyone wants to make use of BitTorrent. But even if you don't, an ISP which automatically slows down file sharing connections is likely to be mean-minded in other ways as well. And if you do use BitTorrent, having that connection slowed is obviously a big no-no. This kind of policy is particularly common with unlimited plans, so check carefully.

No online application system

OK, I'm probably prejudiced -- but an ISP that forces you to print a PDF or only lets you apply via PDF feels dangerously behind the times to me.

What warning signs do you look for when choosing an ISP? Share your red flags and favourite features in the comments.

Lifehacker's weekly Planhacker column rounds up the best communication deals.


Comments

    Not a warning sign but check whirlpool for information about the ISPs. It's the best place for ISP information

      OTOH, it ain't called Whingepool for nothing.

        I'm guessing that name comes from ISPs. If so, there's another warning sign, ISPs that regard customer complaints as a "whinge" and dismiss them offhand.

          Not strictly true. Many ISP's have a presence on the Whirlpool forums, but you only need to have a look there yourself to see how many people seem to do nothing but complain about anything and/or everything, including issues that are outside of an ISP's control.

          In regard to Peters comment - I agree, the forums are hardly a fair resource to guage ISP performance, but the Broadband Choice is a sound source if information.

            It's also a great resource to use for family and friends too. Especially when you get as many requests to help find a new ISP as I do because I'm the "nerd/geek" because I do more than play games or send chain e-mails *sigh*

              Years ago, I worked for a hosting company that provided hosting services to Whinge pool. After a major outage at the hosting facility, the forumites at whirlpool seriously complained that whirlpool's servers came up before theirs did and alleged that we had turned on whirlpool's server first for the good PR.

              The possibility that Whirlpool's servers were quite close to the server room door and when we had to go and push the 'on' button on every physical server in the DC - the servers closer to the door might be turned on first, was never discussed.

            I've found at several ISP's that I've worked that Whirlpool is resented because it's an unofficial support that is public and demands the same amount of attention as say a support email dropbox largely due to its public presence.

              Sometimes however, after getting nowhere and going around in circles with the private/closed forums and telephone support, there's no choice but to find support outside of the normal channels.. and then once you do that and get a satisfactory response, you generally won't go back to the old way.

              I've had an issue with my provided for over 4 months now but I am sticking to the private/closed forums because I know that it's not really an issue that can be solved quickly due to it being an offshore 3rd party ISP that is at fault.

              It's still bloody annoying though!

    Key Warning Sign... their name is "TPG"...

      I was thinking more "the company is named after an extinct species that exhibited very poor judgement".

      TPG seems to clear most of the hurdles set above... it's just that their phone customer service is wanting, shall we say.

        I would like to know more about the Pipe Network being bought by TPG and TPG is planning for Pipe???

        I don't know enough about Dodo to make comment - but then again, I've also avoided them because they have an aura of dodginess (any company whose had a series of commercials with "model/actresses" clad in australian-flag-print bikinis is one to avoid).

        TPG are great value for money on the other hand - as long as you don't ever suffer any issues with your service. In my last house I was about 4-5km's from the exchange, and regularly suffered connection issues. While the problems weren't strictly TPGs fault, their ability to communicate with me and even attempt to help left a lot to be desired.

      dodo.....nuf said

      You beat me to it RE: TPG and Dodo. Should be:

      Rule 6: they have TV and radio ads that sound like voice-overs for liquidation clearance centres. Eg: "You'll never pay full price again! Genuine leather belts - only $5! Designer mens and womens sunglasses - only $10! Unlimited DSL and home phone - only $29!"

      You only have to Google "TPG Sucks" to see the Huge amount of results.
      As of today: TPG About 828,000 results, for DoDo About 1,070,000 results, for iiNet About 105,000 results and for Internode About 178,000 results) These numbers speak for themselves.

      Stay away for TPG and Dodo!
      http://tinyurl.com/4qmtprr

    Great stuff Angus... any chance you can do an article on how to get rid of landlines... preferably for the lowest cost with reference to things like 'live' lines, messagebanks, retaining old numbers?

    I've seen no definitive 'voip for dummies' in Aus articles...

    Thanks mate...

    Head over to whirlpool to find the ISP you want and read all about the pros & cons.

    (hint: Go with Internode, iiNet or TPG)

    The rest are rubbish.

    Then head over to Warcom for good deals with those ISP's.

    Cheers,
    Alex.

    For those who don't use P2P, an ISP which throttles P2P is probably the place for them. Why? Because that ISP is unlikely to have a heap of bandwidth hogs when you just want to check facebook and look at a youtube video or 2.

    I've been with iiNet for over 6 years and never had a problem. They are constantly upping the download limits per month for no extra charge and are quick to help out over the phone when things aren't working well (only happened a handful of times).

      Been with iiNet for 9 years and never had an issue; great plans with great customer service.

        5 years with iiNet - ditto. When I switched to naked DSL 2 years ago, the plan was for 5GB+5GB (peak+offpeak) downloads, now that quota is 50+50GB. I like getting more for nothing!

    Do your own research and see what your neighbours are using.

    I'm not at all close to my exchange and sync at less than 10Mb on my ADSL2+ line, however being on a naked TPG Unlimited plan I still pull down up to 70GB a day with no dropouts, or lag when on Xbox Live.

    Haters can hate, but I'm effectively on a 2+TB plan for $69.

    Was previously on iiNet for many years who I recommend to anyone who can't get/doesn't want Unlimited..

    Ive been with iinet for 4 years and they rock, i use the naked plan voip with 100gig download and free local and national calls for $59. No phone line rental for me. had a couple of issues but their customer service is first class and they fixed the issue straight away.
    cant recommend them enough

      Yep, been with them 6 years & have never had a problem...

    +1 for Whirlpool. Yeah people might whinge, but if you look at all of the reviews and not just one, you can get a good feel for the company.

    Also +1 for watching out for shaping. Lots of programs use bittorrent for legitimate use. Metal Gear Solid 4's online play downloads the updates via BT, plus a lot of Linux distros have a BT option that is usually a lot quicker

    Homelinx,

    Look it up and you'll see what I had to offer customers with my previous job...

    Make sure you check

    before you sign up to get an idea of port availability and indicative speed. I've found it very useful over the years...

      Not sure why the link didn't appear - second attempt below...
      http://www.adsl2exchanges.com.au/

    "Speed limits on P2P connections
    Not everyone wants to make use of BitTorrent."

    It's not just about getting TV/Movies using Vuze/uTorrent either.. a lot of companies are moving to P2P (and similar technologies that get "seen" as P2P by ISPs) for their updates and other downloads.

    Frankly my only tip is if the company name isn't internode I don't go with them

      ^This. That said, iinet seems to be getting some love these days.

    whinge whinge just stick with the bigger providers they offer great deals if you do your research with unlimited usage almost and included landline i pay the same price every month its a no brainer really and its your own stupid fault if you go with some skanky company that spends more on commercials than it does on operators to handle complaints i don't mention names because i'm not giving out free advertising i've always used the bigger names as they have the better service and they handle complaints/technical issues quicker ... and why? because they don't want to lose you as a customer and thats good business practice

    Doing end user tech support for a crust I breath a sigh of relief when my client tells me they are an iinet subscriber.
    If the problem isn't resolved with a call while I'm onsite the steps to resolve the problem are put in place and callbacks/sms/resolution actually happen.
    I don't work for them or subscribe to them but I reckon I will be subscribing in November when my current contract is up for renewal.

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