Picking an Internet Service Provider (ISP) can be a daunting task. There are a lot of them to choose from, and if you’re more interested in just surfing the Internet than the technology behind it, it’s easy to get lost in the details and tech-speak. So, what to consider when picking an ISP—the obvious factors are speed and cost, but there’s a lot more to the decision than that. Availability, terms of service, and customer service are all things you need to consider before you sign a contract.

Availability

Before you dive too deep comparing various ISPs’ technology, pricing, and speed, the first thing you’ll need to do is find out who offers service in your area. There’s no use lusting after Google Fiber if you don’t live where it’s available. And if you’re not into technology for technology’s sake, then the biggest reason to think about it is its impact on availability. For example: DSL connections run through your phone line, while cable Internet runs through TV cable. If you live in a rural area and your home isn’t wired for cable, that obviously makes a difference in the kind of service you can select.

Pricing

We all have budgets, so at some point, you’ll need to decide how much you’re willing to spend for Internet access. Pricing varies by location, and depends on the amount of local competition, so it’s hard to put an accurate dollar amount on certain kinds of service. But as a general rule, faster plans cost more than slower ones. Some providers will let you choose between several plans that start with a base speed for a base price, and offer tiered speed upgrades for an additional monthly charge.

Depending on the company and plan you pick, you may also need to pay a fee for renting a DSL or cable modem. Some plans will allow you to supply your own, and while you’ll have to spend more up front to do so, it might save you money in the long run. Asking about supplying your own equipment is worthwhile if you already own such a modem, or you have the tech savvy and desire to set one up.

Speed

How fast do you want to go online? There’s no single answer to that question. For some, speed is the only consideration, but for others it’s just another consideration, part of a balance. This author uses a DSL connection, and while it’s been fast enough for my video streaming, downloading very large files does take a while. If you’re constantly uploading or downloading large files, or you’re into gaming, you might want a faster plan.

Examples of faster technologies include cable and fiber. Fiber is by far the online speed king, but plans that maximize its potential do tend to cost more. And while fiber speed is both appealing and tempting, the fact is that most customers probably don’t need it—for now. The file size of online content has a way of catching up to available speeds, but for now, DSL and cable options should be enough for the vast majority of users.

Terms of Service and Customer Satisfaction

There are certain intangibles you have to consider in addition to objective measures like cost and speed. It’s always a good idea to see how satisfied an ISP’s customers are with its service. Do their technicians show up at the scheduled time? How helpful are the people you talk to on the phone? Does the company seem to value you as a customer? Do they give you the runaround if you ever try to alter or cancel your service? These are the kind of things you can only learn from real customers, not ads.

You should also take the time to actually read those boring terms of service that we all generally ignore. For example, if you’re constantly online, you may run into a plan’s data caps, and have to pay extra to use more data—so maybe it’s less expensive overall to pay more for a plan without such limits. What about contract lengths—if you decide you don’t like the plan, is there an early termination fee? What are your obligations if you move to a new area where service isn’t offered? These factors are some of the more important things you need to be aware of when making your selection.

How to Choose an ISP in One Step

Choosing your ISP is easy when there’s a single site that gives you all the information you need to make your decision. Use it to check availability, compare pricing and speeds, and read reviews of hundreds of different ISPs from real customers. It’s the fastest, easiest way to make an informed decision, and it’s free. You can start right here—just enter your zip code below to see providers and plans specific to your area.