As a computer consultant to nonprofit organizations, I frequently encounter clients who pay more for their Internet service than they need to. They may have listened to a salesperson instead of a trusted advisor when selecting service, or never renegotiated their rate over the years as prices dropped. The result is that nonprofits sometimes end up paying hundreds of dollars a year for a level of Internet service they don’t need.

I’ve worked with organizations that have paid $24 per month for dial-up Internet service when less-expensive Internet Service Providers ( ISPs) abound, others that have paid $200 a month for SDSL when ADSL is adequate and costs less, and some that have paid high rates for slow ISDN when speedy ADSL is available for less.

What keeps people from switching to a lower-cost ISP? Usually they don’t know that they’re paying too much. Sometimes they know they’re paying too much, but don’t know how to switch. Then when some do make the switch, they make a misstep and end up without Internet service for days.

This article aims to help office managers and “accidental techies” who serve as their organization’s de facto IT department determine whether their organization is paying too much for Internet service, and plan a switch to a less expensive provider.

Am I Paying Too Much?
This question isn’t an easy one to answer, because sometimes a nonprofit requires expensive Internet services. If an organization needs the services it’s paying for, then the fee might be justified. Of course, if the organization is paying for services it doesn’t need, then the fee is too high. To help you evaluate your rate, consider whether your organization is paying for these services that are frequently unnecessary:

Static IP address:Every computer on the Internet has a unique number assigned to it, the “IP address.” The IP address can be “static,” meaning it never changes, or “dynamic,” meaning it can change from time to time. A static IP address is only necessary if you are providing services to people outside your office. If you host your own Web server in-house, offer remote access to users over VPN, or have a mail server, then you might need static IP addresses. But if you don’t have any of these things, you probably don’t need a static IP address, and you may be paying for it unnecessarily.

Too much speed: Faster is better, right?Not always. An organization shouldn’t pay for a faster Internet connection than it needs. For many small offices, the slowest DSL connection is fast enough

When it comes to Internet connections, there are two speeds that together make up the bandwidth you’re paying for: the download speed and the upload speed. A faster download speed means that Web pages load faster, e-mail comes in a bit more quickly, but it is most important when you’re downloading large files.

The upload speed allows you to send files to others more quickly. Upload speed is important if you’re running a Web server in-house, because that speed can determine how quickly your site’s visitors are able to load your Web pages. Upload speed also contributes to how quickly remote users can get files over a VPN connection.For more about this read the article Introduction to Virtual Private Networking (VPN) .

ADSL (Asymmetrical Digital Subscriber Line) and cable Internet connections have a fast download speed and a slower upload speed. This type of connection is the best choice for offices that do not provide Internet services to people outside the office.
SDSL (Symmetrical Digital Subscriber Line) and fractional or full T1 Internet connections have the same speed for uploads and downloads. They are best for organizations that host a Web site in-house or provide other Internet services to people outside the office. (Read more about different Internet connections available in “Choosing the Best Internet Connection .”)
Add-on services:Sometimes Internet service is bundled with e-mail accounts and Web hosting space. But if your e-mail and Web hosting are being provided by yet another company, you could be paying for services you don’t need.

How Do I Reduce My Bill?
If you know you’re paying too much, you know what you want to change, and you’re not locked into a contract, how you proceed depends on what you want to change.

Same ISP, but cheaper
In this case, you can just call up your ISP and ask it to change your service. Let’s say you’re paying the phone company $75 a month for ADSL service with five static IP addresses and speeds of 1.5 Mbps for downloads and 384 Kbps for uploads. You’ve considered your needs and decided you really don’t need the static IP addresses, and you’re paying for more bandwidth than you require. After researching the other packages offered by your ISP, you learn that you can get ADSL service with one dynamic IP address and speeds of 384 Kbps for downloads and 128 Kbps for uploads for $27 per month. By switching to a cheaper plan, you’ll save around $576 per year.

The technical part:if you’re switching from a static IP address to a dynamic IP address, your Internet connection will stop working unless your router or computers are reconfigured. If you’re not comfortable doing this yourself, you’ll need a volunteer with some technical skills or a consultant to come in and do the work for you.

Avoiding downtime:the good news is that downtime should be minimal. You keep the same phone line, same modem, same router — everything’s the same. But when they switch your service, your Internet connection will stop working. How long it remains down depends on how quickly you can reconfigure your router. If you really want to avoid downtime, you can buy a second router and configure it with the information from your ISP. Then when the Internet connection goes down, all you have to do is unplug the old router and plug in the new one.

Different type of service, different ISP
In this case, you have one type of Internet service and you want to switch to another kind, probably because it’s cheaper. The details depend on your situation, but here’s an example: Let’s say you’re paying $200 per month for SDSL service with speeds of 784 Kbps for uploads and downloads, plus a single static IP address. Your ISP doesn’t offer ADSL, but after examining your needs, you decide you don’t need SDSL speeds or a static IP address. You shop around a bit and decide to go with another ISP that offers ADSL with download speeds of 768 Kbps and upload speeds of 128 Kbps for $40 per month. This will save you around $1,900 over the course of a year.

The technical part:Because you’re switching from one service to another, you will need to buy a new modem. If you already have a router that’s separate from the modem, it probably won’t be necessary to buy a new router. But you will need to reconfigure it. If you’re not able to do this yourself, you’ll need a consultant or a volunteer with technical skills to help. You may also need to pay someone to install a phone jack for the ADSL service, since you won’t be able to use the same phone line you were using before. But you can probably use another phone line you already have, such as a fax line.

Avoiding downtime:It’s trickier to avoid downtime in this situation. You may wish to overlap service by not discontinuing your SDSL service until your ADSL service is up and running. Arrange to have your consultant come over on the day that ADSL service is scheduled to be activated. Then she can reconfigure the router and plug it into the new modem. If all goes smoothly, your total downtime should be less than an hour.

Obstacles to Switching
You may be all ready to switch only to find that you’re locked into an annual contract with your current ISP. In this case, you’re pretty much out of luck. You have two choices: You can wait until your annual contract is up, or you can break the contract and pay the early termination fee. If the early termination fee is less than the amount that you stand to save by switching service, then it still may be worth it to switch.

If you’re using the e-mail address provided by your old ISP, that could be another obstacle to switching. Changing your e-mail address can be a pain. You might have to reprint your business cards and send out a note to all your colleagues.

What if your ISP hosts your Web site? If you decide to get Internet service from someone else, what will happen to your Web site? The answer depends on your ISP. If the ISP you’re leaving will continue to host your site even if you don’t get your Internet service from them, then you can just continue to host it there until you figure out whether to move it, too.

Getting Advice
If you need help figuring out whether you’re paying too much, or how exactly you should go about switching, try posting your question to the Networks in the TechSoup Community.

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