The main service offered by Internet Service Providers is of course the connection that they provide you with to the internet. Usually though that isn't all that they include in their offer. In order to make their offer different from that of other providers and to make your job of comparing the offers more difficult they will generally offer a number of additional features that you can get from their service which you may or may not be able to get from other ISPs. Some of these additional features are included in all their plans while other features only come with some plans.
One way in which an ISP might offer two similar plans at two different prices is by giving you the opportunity to bundle your telephone service with your internet connection. Instead of your having your phone service through a separate phone service provider you have both your phone and internet all included in the one bill. The main difficulty in comparing plans once telephone is included as well as internet is that some providers will quote the basic plan price inclusive of the phone line rental while others will quote separately for the internet and telephone. In the latter case you need to count add the phone rental that they charge to the internet plan cost to give a figure to compare to other plans that include the phone rental. Similarly if you want to compare that to plans that don't bundle the telephone you will need to add your current phone line rental to the cost of the internet only plans to be able to compare them. Another thing that may make these comparisons more difficult is if the charging for phone calls is different between providers. In that case you will also need to calculate what the cost of your typical phone usage would be with the different plans in order to get a proper comparison in determining which is the cheaper offer. While a plan with phone bundled with it may appear cheaper at first glance, whether it will actually be cheaper or not may depend on your actual phone usage patterns so you need to work it out properly for your expected circumstances if you are looking to get the best deal. Of course you may prefer to keep your telephone and internet access with different providers and so the plans with bundled telephone will not then be a consideration.
One optional extra that ISPs may include in all their plans are email addresses for you to use. The number of email addresses that they allow with their plans may be different from the number on offer from other ISPs and one ISP may offer one email address, another ten email addresses, and a third ISP may not offer email addresses at all. Whether you take this into account when comparing plans will depend on whether you actually need and intend to use the supplied email addresses. Another consideration is that by actually using the email address(es) supplied by the ISP you are to some extent locking yourself in with that ISP since you will be unlikely to be able to retain the same email address if you switch to a different ISP.
Another possible inclusion if the ISP is offering email addresses is that they may include antivirus and spam filtering of the emails that you receive in that email account. That does not mean that you will not need to do your own antivirus and spam filtering on your computer but it may reduce the amount of spam that actually gets to your computer to need filtering. One possible problem with this is that sine you are unlikely to have any control of the spam filtering it may filter out a lot of emails that you actually want to receive and the ISP may or may not provide a way for you to whitelist those senders. They may also vary in whether or not they allow you to opt out of their spam filtering service so depending on what emails you are expecting you may find that there is no way of receiving them at that email address due to overly aggressive filtering by the ISP.
Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) is an alternative phone service that uses the internet rather than the standard telephone switching service for at least part of the connection. Your ISP may bundle this type of service with their plan. Whether you take it into account when comparing plans will depend on whether you intend using it or not.
ISPs may provide you with a small amount of web space in which to set up your own web site. There are usually limits on what they will allow you to use that web space for and you are unlikely to be able to use your own domain name with their space and so this does not provide an alternative to getting a proper web hosting account if you want to set up a serious web site but it does allow for you to set up a handful of web pages of information to share with friends and family. Sometimes the ISP will also provide one or more scripts preinstalled for use with the space such as a photo gallery.
Another feature that some ISPs may offer is to provide access to certain sites that will be excluded from your bandwidth allowance. All of the access that you make to those specific sites will not be counted when determining how much of your allowed bandwidth you have used. How useful this will be will depend on what sites they include in this list and how much use you expect to make of those sites. If an ISP has most of the sites you need to access on this exclusion list then you ma be able to opt for a lower usage plan than you might have needed from an ISP that doesn't exclude those sites. This will make comparing plans from different providers a lot more difficult if you don't know what use you expect to make of the excluded sites.
Some ISPs offering broadband connections will offer a dial up connection as one of their extra services. This provides you with a way that you can still connect to the internet when your broadband has problems or when you are travelling away from home.
The big thing to take into account when considering all of these extras that the ISPs include in their plans is what use you intend to make of these extras. If the extras are not going to be of any use to you then you can ignore them completely when comparing one plan with another. If you need a given extra that is only provided by some plans then to consider plans that don't include that extra you need to add in the cost of obtaining that particular service from somewhere else when comparing a plan that doesn't include the needed extra with a plan that does.
The other thing to take into account with regard to many of these extras that some ISPs offer is that using the extras helps them to better lock you into continuing to use their service. It makes it harder for you to be able to transfer your internet connection to a different ISP since you have all those other services that you need to move as well. That may lead to your deciding not to use certain of the extras that are provided by your ISP.
This article written by Stephen Chapman, Felgall Pty Ltd.