If you are thinking about using the Internet, you'll need an Internet service provider (called an "ISP"). An ISP helps your computer connect to the Internet's "backbone", usually by a dial-up account (using modem over a phone line) or a fixed connection. Once you are connected to the backbone, all your Internet communications is free--without long distance charges--though some ISPs may have an hourly connection charge.
In this city there is a very good selection for both business and consumers. Deciding which ISP is right for you is often a difficult one, because there is so much choice.
The first decision is do you need a fixed access, and are you willing to pay for it. Fixed access comes in three main flavours: cable modems, ADSL and ISDN, all of which have speeds measured in megabits (millions of bits of data) per second, which is about equivalent to 100,000 characters per second. Cable modems are used by the local cable company to enable Internet access over the same cable used by your TV and stereo. ADSL and ISDN are offered by the telephone companies and are short for asynchronous data transfer line" and "integrated services digital network". Fixed lines tend to require either special modems or a "router" (basically a modem on steroids), but enable several computers on a network to share a single connection. Fixed lines may cost anywhere from $40 to several thousand dollars a month, plus usually a significant hardware investment.
Comparatively, dial-up methods are much cheaper --typically $10 to $20 per month-- but slower, with speeds measured in kilobits (thousands of characters of data) per second. Speeds of 28,800 (or "twenty-eight-eight") and 56,000 ("fifty-six kay", and twice as fast) are quite common. If you have an older computer or older modem, you may have to use a 14,400 ("fourteen-four") modem, which is rather slow for today's graphical web sites. Remember, too with a dial-up account, your phone line is tied up while you are on-line. If you are using the Internet a lot, you need to get a second phone line, or upgrade to a fixed connection.
Here are some questions you should ask your ISP:
If an ISP doesn't provide clear and "plain English" answers, walk--don't run--the other way. If they will bullshit you before they get your cheque, you might expect WORSE afterwards. If you get good answers to these questions, and a warm fuzzy feeling, chances are the ISP is right for you.