Your Internet Consultant - The FAQs of Life Online

2.16. Woe is me! There isn't a service provider in my area. What should I do?

So you've checked PDIAL and NIXPUB and asked your nerdy friends, all of whom admit that you live in a backwater that doesn't have local Internet access. Don't panic. If you've got $20,000 or so sitting around, you might just want to start your own Internet service. Or you could move. Or you could bide your time and pray that your cable company or phone company or Higher Power brings you Internet service. More likely, though, you'll want to go with one of the following options.

Call Out of the Area

If there isn't a service provider in your area, (which is likely unless you live in a large, technologically well-developed city,) you may choose to use one that's farther away. For instance, if you live in a rural area with no local access, you can connect with a service located in another part of the state or country. Of course, this will raise the cost of getting connected to the Internet because you will need to pay long distance or toll telephone charges. This can be a blessing in disguise; when you use long distance, you have the luxury of choosing any service provider in the nation. This certainly beats being stuck with a mediocre service provider, even one that is a local phone call away.

Depending on your phone company's charges, you may actually save money by using an out-of-state service provider with a long-distance phone call rather than a closer one within your state. Thoroughly investigate the costs of calling various parts of the nation.

If a service provider with the tools you want isn't a local phone call away, a host that is accessible via a packet switching network or an 800 line can save you from nasty surprises on your phone bill.

Use a Packet-Switching Network

Some Internet service providers and all commercial online services allow connections through a "packet-switching network." These are nationwide systems that users can use to connect to various online services using any of hundreds of local phone numbers. A packet switching network (like SprintNet and Tymnet) may provide you with a local phone number for access, even though your service provider's computers are actually in Virginia, Cleveland, or wherever. One packet-switching network can provide access to dozens of service providers.

Packet switching networks are nice, but they can drive up the price of using a service, and they aren't always available in rural areas. They're typically only available for use with larger commercial services. Some services that offer packet-switching access do charge extra for that service.

An important advantage of commercial online services is that they, unlike most public access providers, are available as a local phone call from hundreds of cities.

Use an 800 Number

Several service providers offer service via a toll-free 800 number. Although access through an 800 number saves surprises on your phone bill, it drastically raises your hourly cost of access. When you use an 800 number, you don't pay for the phone call, but the recipient of the call does. Internet service providers who offer 800 access must pass the cost on to you in the form of inflated hourly charges. Depending on your long-distance telephone charges, using an 800 number may or may not save you money. Surcharges for using an 800 number are generally much steeper than packet-switching surcharges.

Warning: Rates for 800 access to the Internet hover around $10 an hour. That's quite a price to pay for a "free" call.

800 numbers are great if you travel a lot but need to access the Internet wherever you are. It's good to know you can always get online with a nationwide 800 number rather than trying to find your area's local packet switching network number or paying outrageous hotel long-distance charges.

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