Just like gas or electric, internet is another utility

As an Ohioan you probably know that Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, or PUCO for short, publishes a guideline, including an interactive website, where you can shop around for natural gas and/or electric energy suppliers.

Using the analogy of natural gas, electricity and water lines coming into your house, the internet is just another utility line coming into your house to enable you to access the digital world. Just like your electricity line connects to the public electricity grid to power your house, your internet (or often referred to as “broadband”) line connects to the internet – aka the cloud. Traditionally internet services were, and still are for the most part, provided through the same physical line as your cable TV or telephone – “cable internet” and “DSL” respectively.

As consumers’ use of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets increase, some may even decide to share the monthly data services that they already pay for (if they use a smartphone that is) with their other devices by turning their smartphone into a “hotspot.”

Hotspotting is traditionally used outside the home when public Wi-Fi is not available and you needed to get your laptop on to the internet. Whether this option is appropriate and cost-effective in your house depends on your internet “use case.”

Why? Because just as gas, electric and water are “metered” services where the amount of consumption dictates your monthly cost, data service is also metered in chunks of monthly usage and overage of the allotment means additional cost in most cases. T-Mobile is one exception that I know of where instead of outright charging you for an additional data chunk allotment, they offer the overage access at a slower speed until the next billing cycle.

So even though we don’t seem to have an organization like PUCO to help us be smarter consumers of the utility known as the internet, here are some tips that may help you in your family budgeting:

  • Conduct an invoice review of your broadband, cable TV, cell phone and telephone bills at least every 12 months. If you see a bump in your monthly bill, perhaps because they gave you a special price for the first 12 months that expired, be prepared to ask and even negotiate.

  • Consider using a third-party email service like Gmail, Outlook or Yahoo, rather than one hosted by your internet provider (like sbcglobal.net). This may make it easier for you to negotiate with your internet provider without fear of losing your email address if you decide to change providers. Third-party email service providers do not care who you use for your broadband service, so you can keep the same address despite changes in your internet provider.

  • People who want or need a dial tone during an electrical blackout may want to carefully consider the implications of moving their house phone into the digital world. In a future column we will look at the pros and cons of bundling your home telephone services known as “VoIP” (Voice over IP).

Tak Sato

Business and technology strategist/consultant with 25 years of experience. Holds Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Science and MBA from Cleveland State University.

As founder of geek with a heart consulting, "Hand-holding You in the Digital World", Tak helps Individuals, Seniors, Families, Small Businesses, and Non-Profits utilize appropriate technology in their personal and professional lives.

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Volume 6, Issue 22, Posted 9:37 AM, 10.28.2014