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Internet Service: Would You Switch – and Why?

December 6th, 2010 by Joel Gurin - Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau

If you’re like many Americans, you may be wondering whether you should keep the Internet service you have in your home. If you have more than one broadband provider in your area, you may be getting a barrage of advertising encouraging you to switch from your current provider to another one. Should you switch – and if so, why?

At the FCC, we’ve done a representative national survey to find out how satisfied consumers are with their Internet service and what goes into the decision to switch or stick with an ISP. We’re releasing the results of that survey today. It shows that Americans are largely pleased with their Internet service, but have some cause for dissatisfaction – and face obstacles that make it hard for them to switch ISPs.

Our survey found that 38 percent of Internet users have changed service providers in the last three years, more than half of them for a reason other than changing residences. The majority of Internet users seem to be satisfied with their service; most people who haven’t switched say they haven’t even considered it seriously. Still, 38 percent is a significant number, and one that deserves further exploration.

What makes people want to change providers? Two things: Price and performance. Nearly a quarter of home Internet users are dissatisfied with the price they pay for service, and 47 percent of those who switched ISPs said price was a major reason. Even more – 49 percent – said that a major reason they switched was to get a faster or higher performance Internet connection.

Moreover, the survey showed that a sizeable number of people would consider switching ISPs if it was easier to do. They’re deterred not only by the hassle, but by financial considerations – the need to put down a new deposit, pay a set-up or installation fee, or pay an early termination fee. Early termination fees are currently less common for ISPs than for cell-phone service, but they’re still a factor.

This survey, together with earlier data we’ve reported, underscores how much consumers need clear information to help them make smart choices about Internet service. Speed is a major factor that leads people to switch ISPs – but how many of us really understand what speed we’re getting? We previously reported that 80 percent of Americans don’t know their broadband speed, and today’s survey found that most say their monthly bills aren’t clear about speed either. If ISPs are going to compete on speed – which will be good for consumers and good for the country’s broadband infrastructure – then consumers need better information on what speed they need and what speeds they’re getting.

The same is true of price and fees. We’ve found previously that many cell-phone customers don’t know the early termination fees that they’re subject to. As some ISPs start instituting these fees as well, they need to ensure that consumers are fully informed and can factor these fees into their decisions.

Competition among ISPs, like competition in other markets, is good for consumers and good for service providers. And clear information will help consumers make the smart choices that allow competition to work.

We’re interested in your own experience: Have you switched ISPs, or thought about doing so? Post a comment to let us know your views.

(This is cross-posted on Blogband. Please leave your comments on switching ISPs there.)

21 Responses to “Internet Service: Would You Switch – and Why?”

  1. Ann Catherine says:

    I don't even have an option available to me to switch. I would in a New York minute if I had an option!

  2. Main Street Marketing in Tacoma WA says:

    We are lucky enough to have multiple cable and internet services fighting over this mid-sized city market. That said, all of the major companies are within $10 of each other.

    Now I am not a lawyer and don't play one on Youtube, but that sounds suspiciously like price-fixing to me.

    With respect to bandwidth, we are so far behind Europe and Asia that we might as well be comparing a donkey cart to a mule cart. We need much faster base speeds or the expanding economies of the former third world are going to literally eat our markets.


  3. Susan Black says:

    I live in rural California and my only option is HughesNet. I would dump them in a heart beat after paying for the Pro Package which I was told would give me greater speed and increase on the imposed Fair Access Policy. Currently I've been paying 7.50 daily to buy tokens to restore my speed. Which I'm still trying to find out if that's legal. I had this service in the beginning with Directway and never once had an internet problem with speed or exceeding my policy. Since HughesNet has taken over it is a constant issue and I'm terribly frustrated. Yes, give me another option please as these people are stealing my money daily.

  4. Guest says:

    The only service available to my location is Hughesnet. I have been with Hughes since they were Direcway and have had upgrades to equipment and have been switched to the newest gateway (which Hughes said would not bog down like the older ones have). It was great for the first few months, after the switch, and then back to the same issues as before. We run a business, based out of our home in Carroll County, MD, and need access to broadband service. Hughes is very expensive and very limited on download allowance. We pay for business service over $200 a month for 800MB every 24 hours, rolling basis, download speeds are up to 3mbps and upload up to 1mbps. We rarely reach those speeds (which Hughes has a disclaimer for). Comcast has their lines at the main street that our road intersects, but will not run the cable up our street which has 9 homes on it unless we agree to pay $9000. This is not including bringing into each home. Verizon has DSL service in the area but has stopped unbundling the copper and changing out the cards to make it available to everyone.

  5. Cliff Kishbaugh Jr says:

    I live at 374 Moores Hill Rd Berwick, Pa 18603. Still on dial-up. Have been trying to get DSL from Verizon for 3.5 years now to no avail. Was promised it once three years ago, Bought the modem, etc. and when the service ready date came they sent me an e-mail and told me iI could not get DSL here. I signed for the BFFR program and several people agreed they wanted DSL. Verizon says there were not enough people. there is DSL less than a mile from my home. Can the FCC get them to instal a remote terminal in the line to expand the service?

  6. Jerome says:

    I have DSL with ATT. I am slowly plotting my escape! Wish I hadn't bundled. Wish I hadn't accepted the free cell phone - tied me to a 2 year (used to be they asked for a one year contract, now its two) contract. All for a phone that has a troublesome keypad and I'm 100% certain will break just before my contract ends. Also a cancelation fee in the hundreds of dollars. When I test my speed it is slow sometimes and fast at others. Funny how it is always fast when they test it. Found out the hard way that they do not trouble shoot your connection if it is hooked up to another company's wireless router. If their modem works, they are done with you, too bad if you can't connect to the internet with other networked computers. I'd switch immediately if other companies didn't have - low price - "for a limited time" in the small print.

  7. Mike Cruz says:

    Many consumers like myself are attracted to Special Time limited Service savings which we forget about after subscribing to them........and wind up paying more for less when the special ends.......thus we wind up paying i.e. $ 49.00 a monthe for Internet service...from its introductory $ 29.00 a monthed with no increase in Bandwidth. I am now switching to DSL with a lifetime price guarantee of $22.00 per month.

  8. cooperz says:

    AT&T Global is my isp. Last year i paid a fee to go faster, this year they'll go faster
    again-which is now slow, throw in cable TV and Recording, with lightning speed
    internet, at an additional fee pushing my budget to the brink.
    All I had was dropped service, problems, boot up, off and on with the modem
    over and over, until AT&T spoke to me- the frustrated customer, offering this deal. I
    said I need to think about it, in the meanwhile, no computer connection problems for
    42 hours. The voice called back to sign me up, no I can't financially do this. Back on line,
    well almost, all problems are back. THIS IS A SCAM.

  9. Melva Adkins says:

    I live in rural West Virginia. My only option is HughesNet. I would change in a heartbeat. At first I had no problem, now they implement what they call a Fair Access Policy. If I want to buy a token for $5.00 they will restore my threshhold and speed. This is nothing but gouging rural customers who do not have access to DSL or cable.It's all about getting more money. The people I know that have DSL or cable are not limited. They can download videos, photos, play games or just surf the internet all day and they don't pay near what we have to pay HughesNet.We are being ripped off for the price that we pay.

  10. Guest says:

    I recently had a problem with my AT&T DSL modem--had to buy a new one for $59.00 which was sent to me, andwhich also didn't work right when I first installed it (NO upload capability). I suspect that the problem was really with AT&T, which was corrected a few days later, and the new modem is now getting to the same speeds as the old one (I pay for "DSL Extreme" which is 6.0 upload speed--but the upload speed is no better than 0.46, just as it was on my old modem before I was unable to upload anything, thinking that the problem waw with the old modem). Anyway, I became so disenchanted with AT&T (after being a good customer for over 8 years) that I looked into Verizon's 4-G wireless Pantech UL290, which seemed like a good deal--it was also $50.00 a month (like AT&T's DSL) and I was told that it would be at LEAST as fast, if not faster than 6.0 DSL. For the most part, the upload speed was much better (1.4--2.0) but the download speed was a little slower (5.5 with DSL, 4.0 with Verizon 4-G) . That was O. K. -- what WASN'T O. K. was the fact that I was never told that the $50.00 a month that I was to pay for up to 5 GB of bandwidth would be eaten up by merely being online--I was initially told that those 5 GB of bandwidth would only be used up by downloading or uploading. Since I stay online for a good portion of the day at home, within a little over a week I was already up to 3.5 GB! THEN , I read the fine print on my receipt and saw that--after I went over 5 GB--I would have been charged 25 cents a minute! That means that I would have been charged $15.00 dollars for every hour that I remain online. (Considering that I'm online for at least 5 hours per day, that means that I would have received a bill for $75.00 dollars per day!!!!) Luckily I came to my senses and am going to return the wireless device to Verizon this week, while I'm still within the 14-day period that I can return it, and before I get to the 5 GB limit.

  11. Mike in Illinois says:

    Frontier's purchase of Verizon's telephone lines in IL promised to improve broadband access in rural areas like mine. Nothing has happened in the past year and no information is available on any plans. We only have 768K DSL. No cable option. It is 2011 and I know the cable lines are less than 1/2 mile away from our home. Come on FCC kick these big companies hard and make them take concrete action to get broadband access to all of us in rural areas.

  12. wizardofweb says:

    I am finding that people for the most part lack the education to ask the proper questions when speaking to ISPs. For most people simply correlating larger numbers to bandwith means somehow that they have better service. When in fact larger bandwith for most carriers translates to more restrictions as to actual use resulting in never achieving full use of said bandwith. I believe that ISPs depend upon the publics ignorance in order not to deliver full services which equates to less use of their resources translating to greater revenue generation. One of my sites, http://www.ucanmakemoneyontheinternet .com, is both text and video oriented. The affect of the video oreintation on bandwidth goes un-noticed by visitors as videos are taken for granted. No one says, "Oh look, videos, I wonder how much of a strain on resources this is for the ISP?" Consumer thought doesn't run this deep. Most consumers aren't technical. Until the technical side of the equation is translated to the consumer level, consumers will never know what kinds of services to expect and/or demand for their hard earned money.

  13. Guest says:

    will the fcc do anythan about hughesnet .
    everone who useing it is being rip off .
    i get a 500mb cap i use 250mb and thay take anther 250mb that i did not use

  14. Guest says:

    please fcc help all the hughes net user that being rip off thay are take 2 time the amount of the amount we are useing

  15. alvin says:

    It is good to see competition in the ISP industry as this will cause price wars among the contenders which is good for consumer like us. But there arise a need to audit the services as claimed by the ISP to ensure integrity

  16. W Blount says:

    I'm in So.Saint Paul Mn.My ISP,phone service is Quest Communications.I've been using them since 2005.They started up real nice prices for their home phone service.Then they came up with nice bundle plan.My wife an I were able to get home phone service,their cell phone service, and broadband service at an affordable price.Then they merged with verizon wireless.We had problems every since.Our communictions bills have been eating us up every since.Both companies have been raising the price of our communiction bills every since costing anywhere from $225 to300 per month.

  17. Daniel says:

    Most of the time ISPs falsely advertise the bandwidth they provide. They tell you your getting a certain amount of MB/s but in reality it is much lower. I'd like to see companies start to honestly advertise the amount of bandwidth they provide.

    I would switch ISPs based on speed, reliability, and performance.

  18. Verizon-Poor Broadband Service says:

    Verizon Broadband service is very poor. On my "unlimited" plan, they have a 5 GB max download limit per month and thereafter they greatly decrease your internet speed to 0.19 megabytes per second (this speed is in the bottom 3% of all broadband services). That is so slow that you can't do much on the internet and also slows down your email significantly. At the start of the new billing month, they also continue your decreased internet speed, although you have not yet used 5GB.
    The new Verizon 4G LTE commercials are deceiving as they advertise fast downloads of movies, etc...however, customers are not aware that there is a download limit (maybe 3 movies or so on the 5GB plan?) on Verizon's expensive plans, after which they will either be cut off from broadband service or pay even more. I would try other cheaper broadband services with better customer service if I had a choice...it is quite telling that Verizon has no Customer Service department to handle complaints.

  19. James Hull says:

    I am going to switch from ATT to cable if ATT doesn't do something about their quality issues. I pay for ADSL with a 6mbps total bandwidth. That is supposed to be clean bandwidth, not having multiple problems with re-transmissions and dropped packets. I was told that they were only responsible for providing between 3mbps and 5mbps, and that quality was "not their problem" as long as their testing methods showed there was 5mbps bandwidth. The ISP's seem to think that we are helpless, without the time and technology to know when we are being short-changed. The only thing stopping me at the moment is the time consuming process of switching from a service that I have had for 8 years. We need more power for the consumer to hold the ISP accountable for providing the service levels for all customers that they provide for the HPs and Apple Computers.

  20. Guest says:

    People in apartments generally have no choice. I am in DC and only have Comcast in my apartment. Comcast is terrible, overcharges for everything, and has terrible service because they have no competition. I strongly believe that ISPs buy their aprtment monopolies and then rape the customers, who have no choice but to take it as Internet access is a basic necessity in this connected world. The FCC needs to break up this monopolistic practice and provide free choice to the 50% of us who live in rentals.

  21. Jason says:

    I have no cell phone service, DSL or cable where I live, I called hughes net and they say I dont qualify for the recovery act's discounted price. Im not paying $59 a month! So im still stuck with dialup.....

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