Editor’s note: Russ McGuire is the online director of Business Reform Magazine. Each issue of Business Reform features practical advice on operating successfully in business while glorifying God.

Early Internet adopters faced steep pricing for fast connections. Today, low priced options abound, but you need to understand the distinct differences to make a wise decision.

In 1995, I started a small business. It was critical that we have a fast Internet connection. There were a number of competing providers to choose from, but our critical decision really came down to whether to buy a 56kbps dedicated connection or a 1.5Mbps T-1 connection. The slower connection cost $400 per month from the lowest priced Internet Service Provider (ISP) but required the local Bell company to install a dedicated circuit costing another $100 per month. The faster service was $700 from the ISP and $500 from Bell! Today, most of the ISPs I was shopping in 1995 are history, and I can buy Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) service that nearly matches the T-1 speeds for less than $100 per month, all inclusive. That factor of 12 reduction in cost has opened the door for many small businesses to get broadband who would’ve run screaming from 1995’s $1,200 price tag.

But, before rushing out to sign up for the first DSL package Bell wants to sell you, stop and consider your options, and your needs.

In choosing broadband service, you’ll be faced with a number of different decisions, whether you realize it or not. These include:

  • What technology? Options include DSL, Cable modem, and Wireless.
  • What speed?
  • Static or dynamic IP addresses?
  • Do you need additional services?

The primary drivers for making the right decisions will probably boil down to what your specific needs are, what options are available locally, and what’s the difference in cost.

You must have a firm grasp of your specific needs before making any decisions.

How many people are in your specific location? If there are 10 or fewer, than you can probably go with any option and have enough bandwidth.

Will you be running a web server out of your location? If so, then you’ll almost definitely need a static IP address so that your web address (e.g. www.yourbusiness.com) can be tied to your web server so that your customers’ computers know where to find your web server. If you will have many users of your website, or if you will have much multimedia (audio or video) content on your server, then you’ll need to make sure you have plenty of “upstream” bandwidth. Most DSL connections are called Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL), meaning they provide more bandwidth coming from the Internet to you than bandwidth going from you to the Internet. This works fine for most people, but may not work for you if people are trying to access a lot of data on your web server.

What do you want to do about e-mail? Do you already have an e-mail server that you’re running in your office? Do you know how to set it up as a mail server on the Internet? If that’s what you want to do, then this too likely means you need a static IP address. If the company mail server already exists somewhere else and can be reached over the Internet, then this isn’t an issue.

However, if you haven’t yet figured out what to do about e-mail for your company and you aren’t sure what you’re going to do about a web server, then I strongly recommend that you consider a hosting solution. Hosting has become a real commodity, which means that you can get what you need very inexpensively. For example, Business Reform hosts with ProHosting. One of the packages that ProHosting offers includes 200 Mbytes of web and e-mail storage (probably more than you’ll ever need unless you start storing audio and video files) and an unlimited number of e-mail addresses – all for $17.95 per month. You’ll probably save more than that much just by not having to have a static IP address, plus you’ll give away the headaches of managing web and e-mail servers.

You may also want to establish your own “domain” on the Internet (e.g. yourcompany.com) so that everyone can find you and to give your e-mail addresses a more professional ring. This involves registering your domain and setting it up within the domain name service (DNS). Chances are your company name is probably not available as a domain name, so you’ll probably have to try a bunch of different permutations before you find one that’s available. You’ll have to register the domain for at least 2 years and pay the registration fees for that period (typically $15 – $30 per year). However, that’s the easy part. DNS is the way that every computer on the Internet can find any other computer by name. DNS translates www.yourcompany.com into the actual numeric IP address of your web server so that the packets can find their way to your web site. For it to work, a DNS server somewhere has to tell the world about your addresses. You can run your own DNS servers (you’re actually supposed to have two in case one fails), but it’s a lot harder than it sounds. Otherwise, you’ll need to buy that service from either your broadband provider or your hosting provider.

Now that you’ve figured out what you need, it’s time to start working the phones. The obvious choices are the local Bell company for DSL service, and the local cable company for cable modem service. However, there may be a few other alternatives worth checking out. There may be other DSL providers serving your neighborhood (check at Broadband Reports). These companies may offer options that appeal to your specific needs, or they may be less expensive than Bell. There may also be broadband wireless providers in your town. Depending on the technology used, these services tend to be a bit more picky on which buildings can be served, but they are worth checking out.

When talking to each provider, it may be difficult to do apples-to-apples comparisons between them, so instead keep in mind your minimum requirements and get their best price to meet your needs:

  • What speed do you need? I’d not recommend anything less than 256kbps downstream, and at least 64kbps for each Internet user.
  • Do you need fast upstream? If you aren’t running your own web server, then probably not.
  • Do you need a static IP address, or is a dynamic address ok? You probably only need static if you’re running your own web server or e-mail server.
  • Do you need other services, such as hosting or domain name service? These will probably be cheaper from someone other than your broadband provider, so get pricing both with and without these extra services.

To see how much of a difference these issues can make in pricing, consider SBC’s DSL options for business (additional installation and startup charges not listed here):

  • Basic service: Up to 384kbps downstream, 128kbps upstream. One dynamic IP address. $34.95 per month with a one year contract.
  • Static basic service: Up to 384kbps/128kbps. Five static IP addresses. $54.95 per month.
  • Standard plus service: 384kbps-1.5Mbps downstream, 128kbps upstream. One dynamic IP address. $49.95 per month.
  • Static standard plus service: 384kbps-1.5Mbps/128kbps. Five static IP addresses. $64.95 per month.
  • Symmetric service: 384kbps downstream, 384kbps upstream. Five static IP addresses. $119.95 per month.
  • Expert plus service: 1.5Mbps – 6.0 Mbps downstream, 384kbps upstream. $159.95 per month.
  • Domain name registration: $50 for a 2 year registration.
  • Domain name serving: $100 one-time plus $50 for each change.

Obviously, other providers will have a wide variety of other options at differing price points. All of these beat the costs I experienced in 1995, but understanding your needs and buying appropriately can save you $100 per month or more, so shop wisely.

Of course, once you have that broadband connection, you’ll be looking for some edifying multimedia content to enjoy over your broadband connection. May I recommend OnePlace, a great source for Christian audio content. Looking at the listing of available programs on their homepage today – many of the titles seem particularly applicable to the topic of today’s column: “A Work in Progress” from Christian Walk Alive, “The Alternative” from Dr. Tony Evans, and maybe even “All Things are Possible” from Dr. Bernie Miller.

Russ McGuire is Online Director for Business Reform. Prior to joining Business
Reform, Mr. McGuire spent over twenty years in technology industries, performing various roles from writing mission critical software for the nuclear power and defense industries to developing core business strategies in the telecom industry. Mr. McGuire is currently focused on helping businesspeople apply God’s eternal truths to their real-world business challenges through
Business Reform’s online services. He can be reached at [email protected].

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