The Fine Print in Internet Service Contracts

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are struggling to find new customers. Since first-time buyers are rare these days, vendors are reduced to stealing each other’s customers. Many companies will give away what seems like anything for free to get a new customer. If you want free installation, free equipment, and other freebies, just sign on the dotted line. The contract is part of the bait. It seems like a bunch of legal mumbo jumbo that you need to be a lawyer to understand. Well, it is important to read the contract in its entirety BEFORE you sign it. Take the time to read through it. Ask your friends which providers they use, and find out what kind of contract they have. When the installer comes to your home, he will offer you the “routine” paperwork to sign. When you make the appointment, ask to see the paperwork you will need to sign so you can read through it ahead of time.

Early cancelation is worse than divorce!

  • Return equipment
  • Pay for any “free” equipment
  • Early termination fee
  • Pay for the first free month, or other discounted monthly fees
  • If you purchased service as part of a bundle and get rid of just one part, the other services you are paying for are likely to go up drastically
Read the fine print for an “easy out” with an address where you can send any equipment and fees to; this will save you time on the phone getting the runaround.

Key contract words to look for:

  • Termination or cancellation – both terms refer to if you drop one or all of the company’s services.
  • By reference – this phrase means that other items you may be agreeing to are provided as additional references to the contract, but aren’t part of the contract. Ask for any additional things you are agreeing to by signing the contract.
  • Jurisdiction – refers to the state laws that apply to a dispute between the company and you.
  • Arbitration – most contracts include arbitration which means that disputes that would normally go to court are decided by a company appointed arbitrator that must follow the rules of the written contract.
  • Limitation of liability means that you are only able to collect damages in the amount you have paid to the company, regardless of any emotional or other damage that you may incur.

Maximum usage and download limits

Some ISPs limit the amount of usage that consumers can use. This is an issue that is causing a lot of concern among high speed Internet users. When an ISPs servers are maxed out from an extreme amount of downloads, they may slow down or cut off the connection completely for users that generate a high percentage of the slow response at the server. Check in the contract you are signing to see if there is a cap on downloads or uploads.

Consider new providers carefully

If you haven’t worked with an ISP before, you might have the option of paying a slightly-higher monthly fee to get a month-to-month contract. If you like the service and customer support, you can usually call to negotiate a long-term contract afterwards. It’s much cheaper to pay a small installation fee up front than to pay a huge cancellation fee down the road. Check with the provider up front to make sure you can work on a try-before-you-buy basis. Many times, customers are willing to put up with a contract full of heavy terms and fines for leaving in order to save some money. You should never sign a contract without reading it thoroughly so you know what you are agreeing to. [zipfinder]
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Jess Hutton is passionate about Internet connectivity in developing nations and a fair, open Internet for all. She tinkers with trivia, Twitter, and in-home tech.

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