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.
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