By Pat Pilcher and Gareth Robins
Having been laid off last year, I was faced with the daunting task of selecting a new broadband plan (working for Telecom, my broadband, landline phone and mobile costs were covered as part of my employment). You'd be forgiven for thinking that choosing a new ISP would have been a relatively straightforward process, but in practice it was anything but.
The sheer number of ISPs offering a bewildering array of plans, all portrayed in glossy marketing double-speak made for a potentially confusing range of choices. In the end I asked around, did the research and narrowed down my choices to pick an ISP who I've been pretty happy with ever since.
When a friend said they were going through the same process, I leapt at the chance to see how they went about choosing an ISP. Here's how they did it
Step 1 - Crowd source: Start with 'good' companies. Use crowd sourcing to determine which companies or products are good to deal with. By crowd sourcing, ask colleagues on twitter, Google+ and other forums such as www.Geekzone.co.nz. Doing this gets you past all the marketing, and other verbiage thrown into the mix to 'help' consumers choose but more often than not makes comparisons between ISPs and broadband plans hard.
My friend started his search on the Google+ New Zealand community page, and got a lot of responses which helped him choose from a smaller (and more manageable) pool of ISP to study more closely. The questions he asked online centered around the service levels provided, how good the helpdesk was, How accurate their billing was etc.
Step 2 - Define your needs: Most broadband companies have a range of plans designed to suit the many and varied needs of different customers. Before signing up for a plan, have a good think about what you are most likely going to be using the broadband for. My friend needed a fast upload speed for storing photos online, synchronising videos from some online courses via Dropbox, and to be able to have good quality Google+ Hangouts using his webcam. This also saw him chewing through a lot of data, so he worked out he needed a plan with 100Gb or more. Finally, he also didn't want to own a landline phone.
If (like my friend) you're likely to be consuming a lot of data, then it is fair to assume that the amount of data bundled (this is typically known as the data allowance) into the plan is possibly going to be as important as the speed of the broadband connection. If you're likely to be streaming a lot of music and/or video, making video calls via Skype and an HD cam, connection speeds might be more of a priority.
Trouble is that a lot of factors outside the control of your ISP also need to be factored in. If you're looking at a copper ADSL broadband plan, your distance from the exchange or street-side cabinet can play a huge in how fast (or slow) your connection is likely to be. Similarly the wiring inside your house, your choice of router and splitter will also play a big part in the overall performance of your broadband connection as well as the amount of capacity the ISP has for connections beyond New Zealand.
Step 3 - Do the research: Having developed a narrowed down list of potential ISP candidates as well as establishing what sort of plan he needed, my friend then set about choosing a provider. Doing this saw him visiting ISPs websites, taking notes, and crafting up a spreadsheet with all the plan options for easier comparisons. Firstly he made a note of the ISP and plan name, next he listed the connection speed, data allowance, and cost of the plan. Once this was done he listed the fixed one-off costs such as routers, setup fees, and the costs involved should you need to bump up your data allowance or migrate to a different plan from time to time.
Lastly he calculated the total annual cost (also adding in the one-off fixed costs), and also the cost per Gb (he cleverly did this by dividing the monthly cost of the plan by the monthly data allowance). Doing this gave him a heads-up of how much each Gb of broadband data consumed was going to cost. Choosing a low cost per Gb plan and not using all of the data allowance meant he wasn't not necessarily losing on the deal, but if he'd chosen a more costly plan, and had unused data then he'd have probably been spending too much.
Step 4 - Read the fine print and sign up: Having found out what ISPs have a good reputation, my friend picked a couple of plans and checked to see that that they were available in his locale. Doing this helped further narrow down the range of choices to a manageably small number. According to him, he then checked each ISP candidate's terms and conditions to find out what it will cost to break the contract early (if required). By now he'd pretty much become aware of which ISPs offered the broadband plans that best matched his needs and signed up.