Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

What to expect from an ISP

April 1998

by Mike Gould

Mike Gould channels the Internet for B-to-B in an attempt to help the small businessperson find and stay on their surfboards.

Last month we introduced our link to the Internet, the Internet Service Provider (ISP). This month we discuss just what services are provided, and how to determine if an ISP is the right match for you.

Internet Access
This is the main reason you sign up; you have your computer dial into the ISP’s modems and are thence connected to the ‘net. Once on the wire, you can send and receive email, send and receive files via File Transfer Protocol (more on this later), and most importantly, these days, surf the web. The ISP provides your gateway to the digital beach where you can catch the wave of the future. (Metaphor police alert: I am trying really hard here to avoid the “Information Superhighway” concept, which Robot’s Rules of Order assures me is now like, totally passé.)

Email
Once signed up with an ISP, you can now start doing email. Providers usually give you one to five email addresses as part of your service; how many addresses you need (for each member of your staff, for instance) can be a determiner in choosing your provider. With some services one address is included and others cost from $5.00 a month and up; some give you 5 addresses up front. Be sure to ask your prospective provider how many you get and how much it costs to add additional addresses.

Domain Name Service (DNS)
This brings up the concept of online identity: do you want to be mrbizman@yourprovider.com, or do you want to be mrcoolbizman@coolbiz.com? The latter is preferred, but naturally, costs more. The actual cost of obtaining a Domain Name (i.e., coolbiz.com) involves registering your name with the InterNIC: you need to choose a name no one else is using, and pay a $100 fee (currently, though this may change) for two years’ registration of the name. Your provider will assist you in all this; in fact you can’t register your name until you are signed up with a provider, as the InterNIC needs a starting address for you.

Then your provider needs to do the Internet Software Voodoo Conniptions (a technical term) necessary to serve up your name: they broadcast the fact that coolbiz.com resides on the yourprovider.com server, so email can find you across the technical vastness of the Internet. ISP’s charge for this service; sometimes a one-time registration fee on top of the InterNIC fee, sometimes a monthly fee: be sure to ask about this when shopping for an ISP.

If you are just starting out, or are on a tight budget, you can always forego the DNS and just have your address at your provider’s - lots of businesses do this. But having your own Domain Name gives you a certain cachet on the net; it shows the online world that you are serious about doing business via the Internet.

[Editorial Option A]
(Conversely, having your business address be mrbizman@aol.com tells the world that you are living at the Y.)
[Editorial Option 2]
(Conversely, having your business address be mrbizman@aol.com tells the world that you are new to the net and don’t care who knows it.)

[Note to editor: you may choose either of the above comments, or delete both of them, depending on how controversial you want this column to be. Option A is very true and much funnier, but will offend both AOL and the YMCA - Option 2 will only offend AOL.]

But the main reason you want to get your own Domain Name is that you can move it around: if your current address is at yourprovider.com, and they go out of business, or you get mad at them for screwing up your email, you can just move coolbiz.com to another provider. If you do not have DNS and you change providers, you will need to change your email address on all your letterhead and alert all your correspondents of the change.

Web page hosting
This is the coolest part of the Internet: the World Wide Web. Here you can contact your customers and vendors in the most effective way: via words, sounds, and pictures. This is the focus of several future articles, but for the moment, (and desperately trying to keep on topic, always a challenge when discussing the net) this is another way to evaluate a potential ISP: how much web space comes with the service, what is the cost of additional space, what additional web services are provided, and how well are those services supported?

Next Month: More on what to expect from an ISP: technical help, pricing, and a possible explanation for that funny icon on your desktop there.

Mike Gould now wrangles mice for the U of M School of Education, and can be reached at mgould@mondodyne.com.

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