Here's some advice from the Federal Consumer Information Center:
Telephone and cable companies may provide this service, and there are many other companies to choose from as well. Some provide just the basics -- e-mail and access to the Internet. Other providers offer extra benefits such as their own online shopping "malls, chatrooms, and customized services."
Ask your friends and relatives what providers they use and if they're happy with the service they receive.
If you plan to connect through a phone line, choose a service that has a local number to dial in so you won't have to pay toll-charges while you're online.
Look for companies you can reach both online and offline (by a local or toll-free number) if you need help and that have customer service 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Find out what features different providers offer and decide which are most important to you.
Compare prices. Some providers charge flat monthly fees; some charge by the minute; and others may give you a choice or combination of both. Some even provide free service, but you may have advertisements appear on your screen in exchange.
Pay attention to security. Find out how your personal information is protected from inappropriate access by others outside and inside the company.
Some Internet service providers (ISPs) offer discounts if you sign up for a long-term contract and pay in advance. But things change quickly, and companies come and go. It may make more sense to sign up for service that gives you the flexibility to change to another provider easily if you choose.
Note that most providers allow you to review your monthly expenses online instead of sending you a separate itemized bill. If you note unexpected charges from your ISP, call for an explanation. If you're not satisfied with the explanation, or think you may be the victim of fraud, write a letter to your credit card company and/or your state Attorney General.
- 1 most important criteria
if you are using a dial-up (telephone) connection, will the dial-up telephone number be a local (unlimited) call for you? if not, your phone bill may be ridiculous if DSL or cable modem is a valid choice, it becomes simply a matter of who offers it in your area and price
Here are some criteria to consider when choosing a service provider (ISP): Will you usually access the Internet from only one location, or do you travel and need to work from different locations using a laptop computer? If you travel, you definitely want an ISP with either a nationwide access number (at local call rates) or an ISP with many dial-up local access numbers.
Do you need high-speed or permanent Internet access, rather than ordinary dial-up modem access? Meeting these requirements is more expensive, and may involve equipment (such as a cable connection) that you can't take with you when traveling. If you choose a high-speed or permanent-access plan, be sure you can access your account by modem as well.
Do you want or need the additional services that some ISPs (like AOL) provide? If not, consider a cheaper provider, but make sure they have the services you do need.
Do you want to use the "home page" space provided by your ISP to host your business pages? If so, will your ISP let you have your own domain name? How much extra will they charge for hosting your own domain name? (See also What's the connection between your ISP, your e-mail address, and your website address (URL)?)
If you travel, be sure your ISP provides POP3, SMTP, and Webmail services. You need to be able to receive and send your e-mail using any e-mail reader (such as Eudora or Outlook Express) and using a web-based interface - not just using the ISP's own interface.
Do you want newsgroup access? If so, make sure your ISP provides that; not all do.If you are planning to have your own website, be sure your ISP allows FTP access, so you can upload your pages, preferably using your choice of FTP software, not just theirs.