Choosing a broadband provider

Tips & Hints

The story of a Rose Bay businessman who got a refund from Bigpond after being connected to the wrong plan reminds us of the importance of choosing the right Internet plan.

The best resource for finding the right plan is Broadband Choice. You can search broadband plans by location, cost, speed and download limits. Finding a plan that suits your budget is important as some plans can be very expensive.

Avoid excess use charges

The most basic advice is to avoid Internet plans that incur excess use charges. Most Australian Internet plans have limits on how much data you can use. When you pass that limit some, like the plan that caught the Double Bay businessman, charge excess fees while most have "capped" plans.

A capped Internet plan slows the connection down when you pass the data limit. Rather than receiving an nasty surprise when you receive your Internet bill, you have a slower connection until the end of the billing period. It can be an inconvenience, but it won't break the bank.

Some providers have a combination of caps and excess use fees. That is, they charge excess use fees up to a certain point and then cap any further costs. We recommend avoiding these as they still can give you a nasty surprise.

Another factor to consider is the capped speed. Capped speeds are usually 64Kbit, which is a little faster than an old dial up connection. Some are only 32Kbit which makes the Internet almost unusable and we recommend avoiding plans like the cheaper Optus plans which have these lower capped speeds.

How much data

The next step is to decide how much data you need. A typical user should be able to get away with 1Gb a month. If you have teenagers in the house the sky is the limit.

A capped plan is usually a good warning if someone in your household is using the net excessively. The slower limit will frustrate the power user while mum and dad can still use email and the web on the lower speed. It's certainly better to put up with a slow net connection than receiving a massive bill.

If you find the cap is too low, most Internet providers have no charges for moving up to a higher usage plan. So we'd recommend being conservative at first and increase your plan if you find you're regularly being capped. Check before signing up that you won't be charged a fee should you decide to move up to a higher monthly limit.

Plan speed

A big selling point for broadband is you can choose the speed to suit your budget and needs. The cheapest plans are 256Kbit, which is fine for basic websurfing and email. Most people are prepared to pay for faster speeds.

The fastest speeds currently available are 24Mbit. These are surprisingly affordable. But it's important to note that there's usually a trade off with download limits.

It's important to remember too that the faster the connection, the more you'll tend to download. So a limit that would be fine with 256kbit connection, might not be

Connection fees

There are few broadband plans that don't have connection fees. These vary substantially between providers and it is important to shop around.

Most connection fees include equipment. Cheaper connection fees may have cheaper modems or nothing at all. If you are planning to share a connection between computers, then a more expensive fee with a router, either wired or wireless, may be better value.

Contract lengths

Like mobile phone plans, there are many different deals for different contracts. If you sign up for a longer contract then the ISP might waive all the connection fees. Naturally there are penalties if you decide to cancel the contract early.

Before entering any contract, it's important to read and understand the terms before committing to it. Understand what your costs will be and budget accordingly. If you don't understand anything, ask the ISP what it means before agreeing.


It's surprising how little ISP's market their extras. Many ISPs include spam filtering, virus scanning, five or more email addresses and other useful features. Others charge extra for such things.

We recommend choosing an Internet provider that throws in these features for free. Other features such as movies and music downloads are often not particularly good value. Again, it's a matter of shopping around for the service that has what you want.

Business users

Business users have different needs. If email and the web are essential to your business, then you should invest in a business grade connection. Nothing irritates a computer technician more than a businessmen whingeing about being unable to recede critical email because their $29.99 a month Internet account is down.

More advanced business functions such as web hosting, Virtual Private Networking and remote access require features like static IP addresses and web hosting. Most cheap plans don't offer these. Both Optus and Bigpond cable also don't offer many of these features so we don't recommend cable broadband for business use.

When things go wrong

If you do find yourself with an ISP, it's important to contact them first and try to resolve the dispute directly. It's easy to become exhausted disputing bills as ISP call centres are very good at sending you in circles. If you find you are getting nowhere, then you should contact the
Telecommunication Industry Ombudsman.

If you do have a dispute, document everything and do as much in writing as possible. While some are fairly slow to take action against unpaid bills, others are very aggressive in their debt collection so we, like the TIO, recommend you pay your bill and then argue about it.

The Rose Bay businessman got his refund after much running around. We find this is typical. If you are prepared to stand your ground, the telcos will eventually back down on unreasonable bills.
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