Deciding upon an internet service provider (ISP) can be a daunting task at the best of times if you don't know your uploads from your downloads or your megabits (Mb) from your gigabytes (GB).
And then you have to consider the costs; is the cheapest provider necessarily the best and if you sign up for an unlimited package is it really unlimited?
Here we take a look at some of the hidden costs you may not know about to help you avoid additional broadband charges.
Exceeding monthly download limit and fair usage policy
Exceeding the monthly download limit is arguably the easiest way to incur additional costs on your broadband connection and one that you may not even be aware of until you get stung with an unexpected bill at the end of the month.
This is why you need to know exactly what your broadband package offers and be aware that those that offer unlimited downloads might not define 'unlimited' in the same way that you do.
When it comes to monthly download limits, broadband packages are generally divided into three categories; truly unlimited, unlimited (subject to a fair usage policy) and those with a set monthly limit.
If you have a truly unlimited package then you have no need to restrict your internet usage or worry about how much online content you are viewing or downloading each month as you will still pay the same flat fee regardless of how often you're online.
However, if you have an 'unlimited' package that is subject to a fair usage policy then, although this allowance is often generous with the amount of data it offers each month, you still have to be mindful of your usage so as not to incur additional monthly fees.
And, as the way we use the internet evolves, it's becoming increasingly likely that you will get caught out by these extra broadband charges as regularly catching up on TV shows, streaming films and playing games via your internet connection can easily tip you over your monthly limit.
These fair usage policies are put in place by ISPs to ensure that your usage does not impede other users' connections and in addition to charging fees for any extra bandwidth used you could find that your connection speed is slowed down.
If you regularly exceed your limit you could even find that you are automatically transferred to a more expensive package, albeit one that is more suited to your needs.
If you have a set usage limit then there is no room for any such ambiguity and you simply have to keep your internet usage in check, but you may find that it is harder to keep within these limits if you start to stream more music or video content.
Setup, connection and cancellation fees
Some ISPs will charge a connection fee to activate your broadband connection, while others may spread the cost of activation across the duration of your contract with them.
This could be to cover the cost of hardware, such as routers, as well as the connection fee that all ADSL providers – those that supply broadband through a phone line - have to pay to BT whenever they connect a new customer.
If you shop around when looking for your broadband service then you can search for broadband deals which offer free connection when you sign up. However, you need to be careful that the provider doesn't make this money back in another way.
If you have taken out a broadband contract with an ISP then you will most likely be charged a cancellation fee if you look to end the agreement early.
Although some providers will charge a fixed penalty for cancelling early, fees will usually vary depending upon how far into your contract you are when you cancel and some ISPs may even stipulate that you have to pay up the remainder of your contract, so always check the terms and conditions.
If you are living in rented accommodation and you only have a six or 12-month contract then make sure that you do not take out a broadband contract that will exceed this in order to avoid cancellation fees.
In addition, if you are move house mid-way through your contract but want to stay with your current ISP then they may charge a fee for ending your service at one property and re-connecting it at another.
Furthermore, you may also be encouraged to sign a new deal when you are connected at your new place which could mean that you are then tied down to an old contract that is not as competitively priced as others on the market.
ISPs tend not to include line rental fees when advertising their headline rates even though pretty much all ADSL customers will have to pay line rental to the company that provides their telephone line.
And this can be very misleading to customers; particularly given that monthly line rental can be as much as four times the cost of your broadband. However, by shopping around you can find broadband and line rental bundles that can work out considerably cheaper than having separate providers for both.
In addition, some ISPs reduce line rental costs by using local loop unbundled (LLU) networks, which enable them to bypass BT and install their own equipment at the local exchange. This means that these ISPs do not have to rent phone lines from BT and so can charge their own rates.
You can even cut out line rental costs completely by taking out a mobile broadband contract. This means that you will not receive a router that is connected to your phone line, rather you will be provided with a USB modem stick or a dongle that you plug into your laptop to receive an internet connection wherever you are.
However, before signing up with a mobile provider you should check the mobile coverage in your area as it can be patchy in some rural or more remote areas.
In addition, you need to be aware that download limits are a lot lower with mobile broadband providers than they are with 'traditional' home broadband services and so the money you save on line rental could be negated, or even far outweighed, by any fees you are charged for exceeding monthly usage limits.
It's now commonplace for ISPs to provide customers with a free modem and wireless router when they sign up for broadband services but some will still charge you extra for this essential hardware, so always check before you sign up.
You may also be offered a free laptop or games console as an incentive to sign up to a longer contract but you may find that the 24-month contract you are tied to may not be as competitive as others on the market and you essentially pay for the 'freebie' through higher monthly payments over the course of the contract.
You may also find that you are charged a premium for postage on any free hardware you receive so always factor this cost in when working out which is the best deal for you.
Calling customer support
If anything goes wrong with your broadband or you are having trouble setting it up then you may have to get in touch with your ISPs customer service department or technical support line and this can come at a high cost if set to a premium rate number.
However, although ISPs may advertise a premium rate number, there will often be local or national rate number that you can use so make sure you don't just call the first number that you come across.
If the only number you can find is a premium rate one then once you are through to an advisor, ask them to call you back. It may not always be possible but it's worth a try.
Good anti-virus software and a firewall are essential to all broadband users as, without them, you leave your system wide open to a whole host of viruses, worms and Trojan Horses that, at best, can slow your computer down or, at worst, steal any sensitive data and wipe your system clean.
And while some ISPs will provide security software as part their broadband package, some will only offer a trial version or will come with no protection at all.
Money saving tips
It may be worthwhile trying to pay for your broadband connection either in one lump sum that covers the term of the contract or by monthly direct debit as this can not only get you a discount on your payments but also minimises the risk of missing a payment and getting disconnected.
Work out roughly how much time you will be spending online and whether you will be downloading large files or streaming a lot of audio or video content this will have a huge bearing on the price you pay each month if you're not signed up to a truly unlimited deal. Remember, the cheapest deal is not always the best value.
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