Shop for an ISP to Connect Your MacBook - dummies

Shop for an ISP to Connect Your MacBook

By Mark L. Chambers

If you add or change your Internet connectivity after installing Mac OS X, you must sign up for Internet access to connect your MacBook to the Internet. (You may be able to find a location with free wireless Internet in your area, but this certainly won’t satisfy your long-term need for Internet access in your home.)

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, an ISP is simply the company you contract with so that you can connect to the Internet. You may be contracting with a cable company, such as Comcast, Bright House, or Mediacom, or you may be using a service such as AOL, Juno, or Earthlink. All these are ISPs.

ISPs are as thick as Louisiana mosquitoes these days, and often they’re judged solely by the amount that they charge for basic access. Cost definitely is a factor, but it’s not the only thing that should determine your choice in a service provider. Consider these guidelines when choosing or switching ISPs:

  • Broadband service: Virtually all ISPs now offer digital subscriber line (DSL) or cable modem access. Collectively, these connections are called broadband because they offer the fastest method of transferring information to and from the Internet. If you have a home business, a large family, or students — or you telecommute to your office — using broadband can make your life much simpler.

  • Quality technical support: A 24-hour/7-day telephone support line is a godsend for the Internet novice — don’t settle for voice support during business hours. Forget e-mail-based support, too; your e-mail application will be dead and gone if your Internet connection gives you problems.

  • Static IP addresses: A static IP address — the unique number that identifies your computer on the Internet — allows you to set up a professional web server or File Transfer Protocol (FTP) server. Most ISPs charge an additional amount for a static IP address, so it’s not really a good idea for a typical MacBook owner on the road.

  • Local calling rates: If you’re using a dial-up connection to the Internet, make sure that your ISP has local access numbers in the cities that you visit regularly. Although the current MacBook line doesn’t include an internal analog modem, you can always add an external Lion-compatible USB modem for dial-up Internet access and faxing.

  • E-mail accounts: Investigate how many individual accounts you receive with various ISPs. Also, find out whether you can maintain them yourself through a website. If so, that’s a good sign. Additionally, if the prospective ISP provides a website where you can read and send e-mail messages, you can stay on top of your e-mail even while you’re on the road or vacationing halfway across the globe.

  • Web space: If you want your ISP to host your website, this is a no-brainer: The more space you get, the better. A minimum of 1GB is acceptable, but most ISPs provide 5GB or more these days. Also, beware of ISPs that charge you for your website if it receives a large amount of traffic. It can be expensive to host a popular website if you join one of these ISPs.

  • Domain name service: Finally, the better class of ISP also offers a domain name service, which allows you to register something like For the most professional appearance, you can usually pay a yearly fee, and the ISP takes care of all the details in setting up your own .com or .org domain name.

Locating an ISP is easy in the modern, Internet-savvy world. In the order that you should try them, here are some tricks for finding your local ISPs:

  • Check with your cable or telephone companies. If you’re already subscribing to cable service in your area, you’re likely to be a candidate for cable Internet access. Also, many local phone companies offer DSL access, but that access area is often limited to certain locations.

  • Get recommendations from friends and neighbors. Folks love to give free advice. Ask them how much they’re paying, how reliable the connection has been, and how well they rate the ISP’s technical support.

  • Check your phone directory. Check the phone book for Internet service.

  • Investigate ISP websites. If you have Internet access at work, a friend’s house, or your local public library, you can surf to The List, where you can search for ISPs within your area code and location.