Whether you're perusing the newspaper, flipping through a magazine, or tuning in your favorite show, there it is, the inescapable web address:
If you look at the fine companies advertising in our own publication, you will see many listing their web address.
The reason so many people are accessing the World Wide Web (a system that has provided the technology needed to offer a navigable, attractive interface for the Internet's vast resources1), is to access the myriad of information/points of interest never before so easily accessible. But that access is being significantly hampered.
America Online (AOL), the largest online service, was well on its way to achieving its goal of 10 million subscribers (it currently has approximately 8 million subscribers). But as their competitors reduced their fees to the magic $19.95 per month for unlimited use, AOL was forced to follow.
Previously time conscious AOL users are now staying logged on for as long as they like. Even the 15 minute automatic log-off that AOL recently implemented has not fully eliminated the problem. Unfortunatly, the AOL network can only accommodate 258,000 of their 8 million subscribers at any one time. This has created obvious problems that have prompted three groups of AOL subscribers to file lawsuits claiming negligence, consumer fraud, deceptive trade practices and false advertising. This motivated a large number of state attorneys general to get involved and an ultimate settlement by AOL. These problems have also generated a flurry of e-mail messages from frustrated chiropractic AOL subscribers who refer to their plight as "AOL Hell."
Soon most everyone will be coaxed onto the Internet. The numerous services available are almost too much to resist. And this is just the beginning. The Internet promises to be the contact point for a large percentage of retail purchases and the delivery point for most forms of entertainment.
Soon, you'll be downloading your music and video choices just the way you can now download software and video games. You will communicate with your patients via an electronic patient newsletter. The question is not if you're going to access the Internet, but how, i.e., which Internet service provider (ISP) can deliver consistent access to the World Wide Web with fast e-mail and downloading, but without the traffic problems?
Facing the same dilemma, Dynamic Chiropractic began gathering information to review the choices (for a complete list of the 4,408 ISPs and their characteristics, visit web site http://thelist.iworld.com). Having initially begun with AOL, we were well motivated. Virtually every major long distance phone carrier (national and regional) offers Internet service, from AT&T Worldnet to MCI Internet. Most of them offer the $19.95 unlimited-access price, so the real issue is service.
One of the resources that was especially helpful for us in trying to decipher which Internet service provider to use was a timely article in PC World.2 The article reviewed and compared the top 12 ISPs with an eye towards customer satisfaction. The customer surveys they conducted elicited frank opinions that were often quite harsh when rating customer satisfaction. A grade of "D" or worse was given to America Online, Compuserve and Netcom. The "C" range was held by AT&T Worldnet, Concentric Network, Earthlink, GTE Internet Solutions and Microsoft.
The top rated ISPs were:
IBM Internet Connection - A+ (800) 455-5056 http://www.ibm.net
MCI Internet - B+ (800) 550-0927 http://www.mci2000.com
Mindspring - B+ (800) 719-4332 http://www.mindspring.com
Sprynet - B+ (800) 777-9638 http://www.sprynet.com
While the PC World article choose IBM Internet Connection and Mindspring as their "best buys," we looked at all four:
- IBM, Mindspring and Sprynet were about equal for e-mail delivery and download times; MCI e-mail was much slower.
- Mindspring and Sprynet offered ISDN support and 5MB of server space for personal web pages: IBM and MCI did not, although IBM reported they would offer both some time this year.
- IBM included the popular Netscape Navigator as their web browser; the other three included Internet Explorer. Both Navigator and Explorer offer multiple search engines that are a significant improvement over AOL's WebCrawler. (For those AOL subscribers who would like to try different search engines, visit www.search.com. This site features the 11 most popular search engines on the Internet.)
- Mindspring had the best customer service, but is predominantly in the East, and while they plan to expand their limited presence in the West and Midwest, IBM provides local access all over the world.
Ultimately, our choice came down to IBM, because of their size and worldwide access. They may not be the best provider for everyone.
If you are looking for a way out of "AOL Hell," check out the options. Most ISPs allow you to try their service free for a month.
- The World Wide Web Unleashed, 1966. John December, Neil Randall.ISBN: 1-57521-040-1. Sams.net Publishing, 1995.
- Best routes to the Net: Top Internet service providers. PC World, Feb. 1997, 15(2):125-140. PC World can be contacted at: (800) 825-7595; e-mail: ; website: www.pcworld.com.
Click here for more information about Donald M. Petersen Jr., BS, HCD(hc), FICC(h), Publisher.