For many years, Iowa City has had two main service providers for Internet. Like many communities, these are the local phone company (CenturyLink) and the cable television company (Mediacom). Rural areas near Iowa City will typically have DSL service from their rural phone company (South Slope or CenturyLink).
In recent years, a company based in Cedar Rapids (ImOn) began offering Internet service to the Iowa City area and surrounding cities. This gives area residents a more local choice for Internet service. Their high-speed service is not available in all locations, so one needs to check on availability for their address.
Metronet will soon be offering service in our area (see the https://www.metronetinc.com website for more details). They are not as local as ImOn, but based in a neighboring state, so more local than Mediacom or CenturyLink.
Cost, Reliability, Service, and Speed
These four factors determine the buying decision for most people:
- COST — Most companies will have a low-priced introductory offer to entice customers into signing up. It’s important to consider the long term ongoing cost after initial discounted offers are over. If you are an existing customer, periodically check to make sure lower pricing isn’t available. Sometimes people pay high charges for years not knowing that lower rates are available. This is similar to the billing that cellular companies used years ago. The importance of speed, reliability, and service will generally make small differences in cost less of a concern.
- RELIABILITY — Most companies try to provide 99% uptime or better. Some neighborhoods or areas of cities can have older equipment and older wiring. It’s costly to install new equipment in areas where there is low density (big expense and low return on investment). Some wiring is inadequately protected from the elements, so rain, snow, sunlight, and other factors can result in diminished quality or disruption.
- RELIABILITY HISTORY — In the past, Internet use was an occasional. People would check their email once or twice a day. Outages might not even be noticed. Today, people and their devices are consistently on the Internet. An outage begins a cascading series of notifications from all your devices: home automation systems, home security, thermostats, and any other internet connected devices. People working from home may spend the entire day on the Internet. Just about any outage will result in a noticeable disruption. For this reason reliability is essential.
- SERVICE — When there are outages, or other service needs, a company’s ability to provide prompt effective support is essential. Mediacom and CenturyLink rely on off-shore call centers, so you may end up talking to someone in the Philippines. These people are skilled, friendly, and professional, but some customers may want U.S.-based customer service.
- SERVICE HISTORY — Phone companies providing Internet service have a reputation for providing better service. Because phone lines were relied on for 911 emergency services, repairs of wiring would be a high priority. So, there’s a perception that a phone company would have better support for their Internet service. Years ago, cable companies provided low quality customer service requiring people be home for many hours waiting for the grumpy unkempt repair person to arrive. Cable Internet services were perceived to be of similar non-essential importance as television viewing. As cable companies began providing phone services, and the Internet services became increasingly used for essential services, cable companies had to improve their service quality and responsiveness. Cable television companies now offer service on the weekends and evenings. Service times might be 2-hour or 1-hour arrival windows.
- SPEED — The available Internet speed (bandwidth) can depend on where you live and what neighborhood you live in. As mentioned above under the Reliability topic, the quality of wiring and equipment in different areas will determine what speed is available. CenturyLink may only be able to offer 12 Mbps service in some areas. Pricing is likely to be similar, with 50 Mbps service possibly costing $50 to $70 per month and 100 to 200 Mbps service costing $100 to $150 per month.
- SPEED HISTORY — When phone companies started offering DSL Internet service, they were able to deliver to just about every household in America. This is because the DSL system used existing copper wiring. That was a big advantage. As cable television companies began offering Internet service, they were not able to provide Internet service to rural areas or anyone not in a city with cable television service. The cable providers were able to use their specialized shielded high quality wiring to delver much faster internet to the customers in their area.
Bundling of Services
Bundled packages cost more for the total bill, but may cost less for a specific service. A person might save $10 to $20 per month on a bundled package over what they might have paid separately for the services. In part, this is due to the inflated rates quoted for the individual services. Most people are compelled to buy a bundle when they hear how much they will be saving, and how much each service is worth individually. A sales person might exclaim: “You can’t afford NOT to signup for these great bundled services!”
History of bundled services:
- PHONE COMPANIES — Phone companies like CenturyLink had an advantage of an existing customer base with just about every household and business owning a landline phone. Those existing customers could be convinced to add Internet service with a bundled discount. Feeling the competition from cable television companies, telephone companies started offering bundled packages that included satellite television. So you could get phone, internet, and television service from the phone company. Some people found satellite television to be poor quality, or unavailable for apartment dwellers.
- CABLE TV COMPANIES — In urban areas and small towns, cable companies were able to sell Internet as an additional bundled service to their customers. Yet, phone service was not available initially. Later, with voice over IP (VoIP), the cable company was able to send customers a single modem that could provide internet Ethernet and WiFi as well as a phone jack. So, now a bundled package could provide everything.
Internet Speed Depends on Location
Some areas of Iowa City will have poor Internet service from CenturyLink because the wiring and equipment serving that area has not been upgraded to fiber, but instead relies on old copper phone lines. So, there are still neighborhoods where CenturyLink customers get 12Mbps service. Areas of new construction may have newer lines and equipment from CenturyLink with faster Internet.
The CenturyLink website states: “[$50 per month for] All speeds up to 100 Mbps… Speed may not be available in your area.”
Mediacom typically can provide 100Mbps for more areas of Iowa City. The cost may be $70 per month or more.
Most companies offer a special introductory rate. Be sure to ask for the normal pricing to find out what your monthly costs will be once the initial trial period is over.
ImOn is offering 100Mbps for $52 per month on a two-year contract. [Learn More]
Customer Service Comparison
Phone companies that offer Internet service are considered to provide better customer service, because of the tradition to have phone lines operational for emergency calls.
In recent years, cable companies and phone companies may have similar customer service.
Companies like ImOn may have better service, since they are a small new company trying to build a loyal following.
Package Deals May Save Money
For those who know they want a landline phone, paying for a bundle of services (like phone and Internet) may save money.
For those who know they will want cable television, getting Internet service as well may come with a discount.
If you live in an apartment that comes with cable television, you may be able to have Internet service added to your existing basic cable plan.
With any service provider, there can be outages. These can be wide-spread outages, or issues only impacting your service due to failing equipment, or a poor incoming line from the service box. Sometimes a cable line or splitter can go bad. Having a service technician come out is usually required.
Check Your Speed Often
It’s a good idea to check your Internet speed frequently, perhaps monthly. You can do this by going to Google.com and searching on the words speed test. Then click on the blue speed check button provided by the Google search results.
Choosing DSL or Cable — Consider Your Home Wiring
Something nice about DSL service is that it’s delivered to and through the home using the existing telephone wires. If you have phone jacks throughout the home, that means you’ll have more options for placing the DSL modem.
Some homes have good placement of cable tv jacks. If you have a cable tv jack in a location that’s convenient for a cable modem, that might be a good choice for you.
If you’re planning on using WiFi, then placement of the modem isn’t as important.
When you rent equipment from your Internet provider, you are entitled to periodic upgrades and replacements for older equipment. If you purchase your own DSL or Cable modem, the service provider may not be able to do thorough diagnostics, testing, and remote support as they would if the equipment was something they are familiar with, and the rental qualifies you for support. To get help with your own equipment, there could be an additional charge from the company, or an independent consultant.
Size of Home
For a large home, you may end up wanting to get some equipment for a mesh network. You would still use the main modem from your service provider, but you would then plug-in a primary WiFi base unit as your primary home WiFi network controller.
So, basically, you would not be using the WiFi signal from the provider’s router, but instead from the mesh equipment. An example is Google WiFi, NEST WiFi, or EERO WiFi. [View Examples] These generally cost $200 to $300 for a 3-unit set. All of your devices connected to this mesh network would be able to communicate with a shared printer or other shared network device. Your devices would intelligently connect to the nearest WiFi hotspot with the best signal. To your device, they would all appear to be the same network. This is similar to what might be at a hotel or college campus.
This document was originally posted on 7 Mar 2022.
On 28 Mar 2022, two sections were added to the top. One section on Cost, Reliability, Service, and Speed summarized these key features as they relate to making a decision about what Internet service provider to choose. Another section of the document covers Bundling of Services.