IT Freedom Blog

Don't Say We Didn't Warn You: Top Internet Service Provider Lies

by Matt Miller on

Okay, “lies” might be a little harsh. But when everyone wants your business and is willing to say anything to get it, it’s hard to know what to believe. So we compiled our top 7 most common sales tactics you might run into while searching for an Internet Service Provider.

top internet service provider lies

1. “Our service is better than cable Internet because it’s not shared with all your neighbors.”

In fact, somewhere beyond your premises, all Internet service is shared. Whether you have fiber service, DSL, or cable service, your traffic will travel along the same conduits as that of other people and businesses. What really matters is if your access into that shared network is via a wide open parkway or a congested side street; “shared” versus “not shared” doesn’t tell the whole story.

Given that all networks are shared “upstream” somewhere in your Internet service provider’s infrastructure, the key question becomes this: was the network designed with a lot of capacity upstream - enough to provide good service even when all of the ISP’s customers are burning up their connections - or was it designed with just enough capacity to get by most of the time?

The increased competition in this industry has recently made this less of an issue. The cable providers in town (Comcast, Spectrum/TWC for those in Austin) seem to be getting better about ensuring their upstream nodes have enough bandwidth to serve a lot of users in the same place, all at the same time. If you were a betting person, it would be a safe bet to assume that this is happening because providers like Google, Grande, and AT&T are bringing quality fiber services into town.

2. “Our Service is 300 Mbps.”

This one could also be called “rated speed isn’t everything.” Every Internet service out there comes with some statement about how fast it is: “up to 300 Mbps”, “fastest Internet in Austin”...or some variation of those.

Those numbers and statements rarely tell you the whole story about what you’re getting though.

First of all, most of those statements about speed on commodity Internet services (be they cable modems, DSL, or fiber services) have the infamous “up to…”qualifier. Up to 300 Mbps...what does this actually mean? It means that the connection is set to never let you get more than 300 Mbps - that’s it. How much speed you will actually see depends on a lot of things: not only how Internet services are all “shared” at some level (as we referenced above), but also how speed ratings have different implications depending on whether the Internet is cable modem, consumer-grade fiber, or enterprise-grade fiber. In practice, for example, you’re much more likely to get your rated speed on a new fiber optic network that was designed with speed in mind versus older networks that may not have been.

Second, many internet services - especially cable and DSL services - are asymmetrical in nature. So you can get up to 300 Mbps if you’re downloading something but maybe only 15-20 Mbps if you’re sending data out. As the cloud really begins to take over, having the ability to upload files to the cloud at the same rate you download them is increasingly important. Most fiber-internet services (AT&T, Grande, Google) and enterprise providers are selling symmetrical services, which is almost always a need for modern businesses.

3. “I work with telecom services all the time - it’s my job, after all - so I can figure out what services you need.”

I want to start this point off by saying that there are lots of good, qualified ISP sales people and account managers out there that really do have their prospective clients’ best interests in mind and who really are domain experts in the telecom field. IT Freedom has good relationships with many ISPs, and because we work with ISPs so often, we are in the enviable position of having great representation from our partner ISPs, and we appreciate working with them every day.

That being said, unfortunately there are a lot of people in ISP sales departments whose only job, and only concern, is making the sale. And in lots of cases, they are equipped with the latest marketing materials, sales quotas, and maybe not much else. In those cases - and we speak from experience here in defending (that’s what it feels like sometimes) our clients from these sales tactics - you really do need someone technically qualified in your corner to advise on what services truly make sense for your business.


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4. “We have the most reliable Internet service in Austin.”

I’m sure that i’ve seen this on a billboard somewhere in town The important thing to remember here is that there are a lot of small print and qualifiers associated with a statement like that. “Most reliable per a particular, vetted set of criteria and according to a particular set of data that may or may not be comprehensive” might be more truthful.

I can pretty much guarantee though that the absolute most reliable Internet service in Austin isn’t whatever services’ billboard said that. The most reliable would be an enterprise grade service that we designed specifically for reliability, because reliability really, really matters for whoever is using that service. Those kind of strong claims about reliability speak to scenarios where downtime is measured by the thousands of dollars or worse.

To the marketing department that came up with that billboard, what is the point? They were coming up with an ad for maximum impact, and were of course only talking about “most reliable” amongst similarly priced and widespread services, sure, but that’s not actually helpful for real businesses. It’s better to start from your businesses requirements and work forward to what service is going to actually be able to support your specific needs. Sometimes, it might even be two services. Redundancy is increasingly affordable and can mitigate a lot of business risk.

5. “You save money by going for a long-term contract.”

When we initially wrote this post we talked about how you could generally get a lower rate by signing up for a long term Internet service contract but that you should consider a few things like:

  • The fact that some of these contracts lock you into a certain price AND a certain speed, which wasn’t always best considering speeds are continuously improving so you could be paying more for lower available speeds toward the middle to end of your contract.
  • Phone services tend to be bundled in your long-term contract and with Internet based options becoming more and more available, these commitments may limit your ability to take advantage of these technologies.

Today, long term contracts are less common. The Charter buyout of TWC essentially eliminated many term contracts and AT&T’s Business Fiber contracts are month-to-month by default. There are still some business-class providers that will try for a longer term contract, but our advice? The smart plan would be to look and ask for options that don’t come with a long-term contract.

6. “DSL based service is that same as our fiber service.”

This is just all around wrong. We don’t really have a better way to say it. DSL is something that at this point should absolutely be a thing of the past, at least in Austin.

AT&T, Google, and Grande have been pretty aggressive in their quest to get fiber in Austin and Spectrum is continuing to improve their cable services, which is almost always better than DSL as well.

A lot of the confusion comes from companies branding both their fiber and DSL-based services under one brand name (AT&T U-Verse for example). These two services couldn’t be more different. How can you tell which one you’re paying for? If you’re paying for 100 Mbps or 1000 Mbps you’re getting fiber. If you’re paying for anything lower—especially with an oddball speed like 24 Mbps or with a tiny upload speed—then it’s DSL. And if you’re in the city there’s a good chance you have better options. If fiber isn’t available to you, and you’re choosing between Spectrum cable and AT&T’s DSL-based service then the cable modem is almost certainly the better choice.

7. “Our service will make you younger, more beautiful, and gain you friends - just like any good pair of jeans.”

Ok. Ok. This might not be a direct quote, but the suggestion that this is true is definitely present in many sales tactics.

The point is, however, that whether you’re searching for internet service for yourself or your business, you should be an informed discerned shopper, keep to the less-than-remarkable meanings behind some of the most common and alluring ISP sales tactics. Higher Mbps numbers aren’t always as sexy as they sound, and flashy billboards don’t always tell the whole story.

If identifying the criteria that really matters to you, asking the right questions, and choosing a provider from there still feels daunting, consider us one of the following: your vest-clad tour guide through the dense rainforest, the conga line leader at a wedding, or any other metaphor of your choice to help you navigate the overwhelming and often deceptive world of ISPs. And trust us: they aren’t all bad. In fact, we know, support and can recommend some great ones, so please if there is something you’re struggling with give us a call! We would love to help.


Editor's note: This blog was initially published on January 28, 2016 but has been updated with new information and relevant content.


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