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Posted: September 09, 2011

Seven questions to ask an Internet Service Provider

Here's how to make sure your business gets what it needs

Jay Dirkmaat

For many businesses, evaluating, or reevaluating, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) is a task that probably falls to the bottom of an always-long list of to-dos. But with so many issues to deal with daily - customer service, sales, people management and more - an effective, flexible and reliable ISP can actually give a business more time, better tools and greater peace of mind to better accomplish these important tasks.

Whether a company's been using the same ISP for years with minimal satisfaction or the business is a startup on the verge of launching a website, here are seven questions every savvy businesses owner must ask of their ISP.

Is the ISP reputable?

With many ISP options available, it can be difficult to differentiate between which are reliable and which might leave your company in a lurch. Ask yourself these questions: Is there a physical address listed on the company's website? Is the company registered with local, state and federal agencies? Has the company been in business for a reasonable amount of time? If the answers are no, the ISP could be risky-or fraudulent. Most ISPs have a brick and mortar office and are registered with recognized agencies. Try verifying the provider with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

Also, because developing and maintaining wireless infrastructure is time-consuming and expensive, many small ISPs go out of business quickly. Select an ISP that is reputable and recognizable, because you don't want your service going down or disappearing and taking your internet access, domain name and money with it.

Is the connectivity reliable and efficient?

Ask the ISP about its "uptime," or the percentage of time their service is up and working. Most companies offer at least a 99 percent uptime, but it's smart to insist that uptime is detailed and guaranteed in your service agreement. Take it a step further and find out if and how the ISP compensates for any downtime.

For Chris Ruske, a manager for Bombardier Recreational Products, a manufacturer of snowmobiles, watercraft and other motorized recreational vehicles, reliability was a major factor in determining an ISP. With offices in Canada and throughout the United States, email is Chris' primary form of communication, and every minute of downtime costs his employees important time and productivity.

"It's important for us not lose speed or connectivity," said Ruske. "We're constantly sending files back and forth to other plants, and if we don't have internet access I hear it from our employees. Reliability is one of the most important things to look for when choosing an ISP."

Keep in mind that not all providers in your area have the same level of network reliability and redundancy. It's crucial that your ISP offers the capacity and constant connectivity your business needs.

Can the ISP grow with your business?

As your business expands, you will need a faster network and more bandwidth. It's important to choose an ISP that is scalable to meet short-term and long-term business needs.

An efficient and affordable solution to this is an Ethernet network. For example, Comcast recently launched a Metro Ethernet service (or "Metro E") for mid-sized businesses. Metro E is a custom network that allows businesses to link multiple locations and exchange data at up to one gigabit per second, improving the performance of bandwidth-intensive applications such as cloud computing, infrastructure consolidation, business continuity/disaster recovery, business process automation, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), videoconferencing and e-commerce.

Does the ISP offer bundled packages?

Bundling services not only saves your company money, it reduces the amount of time it takes to collect, track and pay multiple bills. Check to see if the ISP bundles services such as internet, phone and cable.

Ruske shopped around for a new ISP after growing tired of sky-high bills for phone, internet and cable from separate providers.

"We're always looking for a way to save some money, and bundling saved us around 60 percent on our bills," said Ruske. "I absolutely recommend looking for an ISP that offers a bundling option. By asking companies about the packages they offer, you can find ways that save money and make a big difference."

What applications and extras does the ISP offer?

Find out if the ISP offers additional applications that will make running your business easier. For example, does the ISP offer hosting? Many do. Some ISPs even offer easy-to-use website builder programs so you can create sophisticated, interactive websites on your own.
Also find out what extras sets the ISP apart. For example, Comcast offers Microsoft SharePoint, a document sharing application that allows employees to easily share files from nearly any internet-connected device. This helps improve productivity by allowing team members to share files, post messages and manage projects more effectively, with real-time data and documents.
How is the customer service?

You can read promises about a company's excellent customer service but the true test is to find out for yourself: before signing up, call customer service at the ISPs you are considering to see how customers are treated. Ask about the products and services. Your treatment on this call could be a good indicator of the norm.
Additionally, ask the ISP about the kind of over-the-phone or in-personal technical support that is available. Determine if the ISP offers support after normal business hours and on weekends.
Finally, ask about the kind of training the ISP provides to employees. Keep in mind that larger, more sophisticated companies typically have more in-depth employee training programs.
How secure is the ISP?

According to the Symantec's Message Labs Intelligence Report, 86.4 percent of all email traffic is spam. Make sure your ISP offers protection against viruses, spyware, Trojan horses, worms, bots and rootkits by stopping threats at point of entry with a two-way firewall.

Businesses using an ethernet connection have an additional safety benefit as some ethernet services use a private network instead of the public internet, making for safer and more secure data transfer. With Comcast Metro E, all traffic is masked with a unique customer ID to protect the network against unwanted intruders.
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About Jay Dirkmaat

Jay Dirkmaat is Vice President of Comcast business services in Colorado and New Mexico, where he works with customers ranging from start-ups to large corporations. In this role, Dirkmaat ensures Comcast provides their customers with the right mix of innovative products and customer service. Dirkmaat has nearly two decades of sales and sales management experience.

 

Jay Dirkmaat is Vice President of Comcast business services in Colorado and New Mexico. In addition to his work with businesses ranging from start-ups to large corporations, Dirkmaat manages the Comcast Community Partners program, a resource that provides nonprofit organizations with deeply discounted services and technology solutions that save time, increase productivity and offer more value. Active in the community, Dirkmaat volunteers for Operation Christmas, Habitat for Humanity and the MDA telethon.

Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

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