Broadband plans explained

by Andy Turner
Coastal Computers & Design

One of the things that really gets to me is how many of my customers are either paying too much for their broadband service or are on a ‘budget’ plan that only gives them slightly faster than dialup speed and they still pay through the nose – especially when they go over their ‘free’ monthly data limit. This article aims to explain in plain english what the technical terms mean so you can make an informed choice.

1. Speed.
The speed of your broadband connection is usually always described as two numbers separated by a ‘dash’. For example 512/128. The first number is your download speed, the second your upload speed. The higher the speed of your connection – the more you can do with it and of course, the greater the cost. The still common 256/64 plans are not really true broadband – the 64k upload speed is barely faster than dial up – and if you wanted to use say, a webcam, the experience for the person viewing it would be very jerky. I recommend a minimum of a 512/128 plan or for around $10 a month more a 1500/256 plan or higher.
I worry about companies that describe their plans as ‘fast’ or ‘superfast’ – why not just make it clear what the plan speeds are rather than confusing customers. If I was cynical I’d say that maybe that is their intention…

2. Monthly data.
Broadband providers provide you with a certain amount of ‘free’ or included data in your plan every month. The ‘unlimited’ plans always have a catch somewhere, so you need to ask how much data is included and what the terms are. Some companies allocate you say, 10Gb per month but maybe 8Gb of that is ‘offpeak data’ which means that you can only use this during their specified off-peak hours (often midnight to 8am or similar). Budget plans usually only include something like 100-400Mb per month but an average user should expect to consume 400-800Mb per month just browsing the internet, downloading emails and updating Windows or their antivirus program. A minimum 1Gb (1000Mb) per month plan (speed capped, see below) is more reasonable and you should expect to pay no more than $35-$40 a month for this. Expect to be speed capped or pay possibly double the plan cost a month (see below) if your family includes teenagers though!

3. Excess data charges or speed capping.
This is the crucial element of broadband plans – excess data charges are evil. They are there because the provider wants their customers to go over their data limit so they can reap a totally unfair and unreasonable windfall. Common excess data charges are 15-20 cents per megabyte. Doesn’t sound much does it? But if you go over your 200Mb budget plan by 200Mb you end up being charged between $30 to $40 extra. Charging $60 or $70 for 400Mb is criminal and double what you should be paying. In comparison, capped plans mean that after using your monthly data your connection is slowed to around dial up speed, but you aren’t charged a cent more.

4. Contracts
As with mobile phone contracts, lock-in contracts are common with internet providers. They guarantee the company income for the entire period you are tied to them. My recommendation is to never – never  – sign up for a broadband plan that has a contract of more than 6 months. Forget about the ‘free’ modems or routers they try to bribe you with if you sign a 24 Month one – buy a better wireless router yourself if you need one. It might cost you $120 or so but it’s worth it, believe me. I’ve heard too many people complaining “oh I can’t wait to get away from company X. I’m stuck with them for another 18 months, the service is terrible and I’m paying through the nose!”.

If you still need some help with choosing a plan that’s right for you, visit the Whirlpool Broadband Choice site for an unbiased presentation of all the available plans and companies in Australia.

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