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Business Technology: Pulling onto the Information Superhighway
by Sue Clayton

This article originally appeared in Arizona Business Magazine, (January/February 1997) and is reprinted here with permission.

You've decided it's time to venture onto the Information Superhighway. You've got a computer and modem, permission to tie up the family phone line for a few hours each week, and a burning desire to get started. Now you'll need to pay the toll. In other words, you'll need to select an Internet Service Provider (ISP). The ISP is the gatekeeper who will connect you and your computer - via modem - to the Internet.

With more than 3,000 ISPs in this country alone, choosing one that best meets your needs can be a challenge. Fortunately, ISPs can be divided into three simple categories. The first category is the Big Four - America Online (AOL), CompuServe, Microsoft Network (MSN) and Prodigy - which are internationally-accessible ISPs that offer Internet access plus many of their own unique features. The second group of providers are national ISPs, such as AT&T Worldnet, Netcom and Pipeline USA. Finally, you can choose a local ISP. You can generally find these companies listed under "Internet Products and Services" in the Yellow Pages.

Selecting an ISP is not a decision that can be made solely on price. In fact, most ISPs charge comparable fees - generally around $20 per month for a personal account. However, some ISPs offer a lot more for your money, and it's worth your time to do some investigating. To learn how to best select an ISP, Arizona Business consulted Mark Goldstein. As president of the International Research Center and a Phoenix-based information broker and contract research provider, Goldstein is a heavy user of the Internet. He spoke with us about nine areas to consider when evaluating an Internet Service Provider.

Getting on the Information Superhighway, like beginning a trip to any new destination, can be a challenge. But planning your trip carefully, by choosing an Internet Service Provider that's right for you, is guaranteed to make your journey a lot more pleasant.

(Sue Clayton is a freelance writer and owner of The BizWriter in Phoenix.)