Several different kinds of businesses offer Internet connections, including large companies with access points in many cities, smaller local or regional Internet service providers, and online information services that provide TCP/IP connections to the Internet along with their own proprietary information sources (I'm talking about AOL here, of course).
You might notice that Windows XP comes with pre-installed software to use Microsoft's MSN service. The New Connection Wizard (which we'll discuss below) may try to steer you to an ISP that paid Microsoft to be listed. And, your computer reseller may have installed icons for other preferred services. Remember, you don't have to use any of these providers. Windows has all the software it needs to connect to any ISP except AOL, and AOL is easy to add on, if that's the way you want to go. (Getting their software is certainly no problem. If you're like me, you probably have at least 50 AOL CDs laying around. They come in magazines, newspapers, take-out pizzas…) Do your own research to find the best fit for you.
The following are a few points to consider in choosing an ISP:
If you have access to the Web, try checking the page www.thelist.com. You'll learn a lot about comparative pricing and features offered by ISPs, along with links to their pages for opening an account. Another good site is www.boardwatch.com.
Finally, you should know that there some ISPs that give you free dial-up Internet access. These providers install software on your computer that displays a small window of advertising the entire time you're connected. If you're pinching pennies, this isn't a terrible way to go. You might check out http://www.freedomlist.com/ for a list of free (and cheap) ISPs in your area.
In my opinion, getting good customer service is more important than saving a few dollars a month. As you narrow down your list of potential ISPs, call their customer support telephone number and see how long it takes to get to talk to a human being. This experience can be very illuminating.
If you're a frequent traveler and have a laptop or other device with which you want to connect to the Internet while on the road, remember that broadband service is wired into place. In other words it doesn't provide for access when you travel or roam about town unlike many national dial-up ISPs that offer roaming. However, some broadband ISPs include a standard modem dial-up account at no extra charge just to compensate for this factor.
If you want Internet connectivity when you travel, consider these options:
At the end of this chapter, I'll give you some advice about getting Internet access while traveling overseas.
If you're a current dial-up AOL user you know how painfully slow it is at accessing non-AOL Internet Web sites (or maybe you don'tmaybe you think everyone suffers this way!). You should know that you can get a fast broadband connection or even standard dial-up service, which gives you fast Internet access, and still allows for use of AOL for email and their exclusive content.
Relying on the New Connection Wizard
Windows XP includes a wizard application that can connect via modem to a toll-free line operated by Microsoft, offer you a choice of ISPs, and sign you up for service, without your having to lift much more than a finger.
Before you let the wizard narrow the range of choices for you, remember that its range of choices is narrow to begin with. You'll probably want to do some research on your own. Then you can use the wizard to see if it recommends your ultimate choice. If it does, you can let it help you set up the account.