Internet services vary according to your location and the type of connection you have. Shop around for a contract that fits your needs and budget and know your rights if you have a problem.
Broadband internet is capable of transmitting large amounts of data at high speeds, while telephone connections are significantly slower.
Internet providers sometimes claim their services have a ‘peak speed’ or ‘maximum speed’, or that you’ll receive ‘up to’ a certain speed—for example, ‘speeds up to 10Mbps’ (megabits per second).
Be aware that this speed can be quite different from the actual speed you experience. This is because a number of factors affect speed, including:
- your distance from the nearest phone exchange (in the case of ADSL or ADSL 2+)
- your distance from the nearest phone tower (in the case of mobile wireless broadband)
- the number of people using the network—your connection will be slower at busier times.
The amount of data you need depends on how you want to use the internet.
Some types of files or features use a lot of data. These include:
- downloading music, photos, movies and software
- software updates
- streaming video (such as YouTube)
- playing online games
- sending emails with large files attached (such as video, music or picture files)
- uploading—some internet plans count uploading files towards your total data use, such as loading photos and videos onto your social networking homepage
- video and voice calling.
If you plan to regularly do any of these things, a larger data allowance will suit you better. If you mainly browse the web and send emails, a smaller allowance may be enough.
Internet plans usually include a monthly data allowance measured in megabytes (Mb) or gigabytes (Gb).
Before you sign up to an internet plan, it’s important to check with the internet provider what happens if you use up your allowance.
Some internet providers may simply slow down your connection for the rest of the month (called ‘throttling’ or ‘shaping’).
However, others may charge you for any extra data you download or upload, which can quickly add up. For example, if any data you use over your limit costs $2.00 per megabyte, downloading a single 4 Mb song could cost you $8.00.
Make sure the provider offers you an easy way to check how much of your allowance you have used. Also check that they alert you if you get close to your limit.
Consider the following questions when choosing an internet service:
- do you want to lock into a long contract and if so, what is the monthly fee and does it cover all the browsing, downloading and uploading you wish to do? Are there any fees for leaving the contract early to switch to another provider?
- if using a wireless provider, are you permitted to also use a roaming network and what would this would cost in addition to your usual monthly fee?
- if you bundle your service with your mobile phone and / or landline service, will it save you money? Are there any hidden costs in bundled services you’re considering?
- would you prefer the flexibility of a pre-paid account that sets a value limit and enables you to top up the account as needed?
Internet phone services, also known as VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services, allow you to use your internet connection as a telephone service. Calls are often cheaper than those on the normal phone network, particularly for long distance and international numbers.
Some service providers offer VoIP services which may be supplied with a special phone handset. Other VoIP services operate through your computer or device and may require special software and equipment, such as a microphone headset.
While VoIP services can be cheaper than other phone services, services that operate over fixed lines do not work during power outages.
A small number of internet phone providers don’t allow you to make calls to numbers beginning with 13 or 1800 or charge different rates for these calls.
Consider the following questions when choosing an internet phone service:
- do you want a computer internet phone service that also allows you to make video calls?
- do you have a mobile phone back up in case of power outages?
- what are the set-up costs and will your current broadband capacity cover your internet phone calls?
- are there any limitations on numbers you can call, or extra charges for particular numbers, including dialling ‘000’?
- do they have support services, such as a helpline and a good complaints handling policy?
Internet providers must:
- provide clear and accurate information in contracts and bills
- give you help if you’re having problems paying bills and follow certain steps before disconnecting your service
- provide good service and deal quickly with complaints
- provide a repair, replacement or refund if the service and / or associated equipment does not meet consumer guarantees.
If you cannot resolve the problem with your provider, contact the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman on 1800 062 058.