Common Cents: Lower Internet Costs


If I could write an ode to any entity, it would be the Internet.

The ditty would describe the thin line between love and hate for a technological advancement that has changed the way we all go about our daily lives.

But unlike idealized romantic love, there’s a charge for reciprocity from the Internet. (That kind of love can hurt.)

My connection to the Internet has evolved to the point that it is my job.

But if you, like me, between work and your real life, only spend one waking hour at home online, the question stands: Are we getting value for our dollars? While reverting back to usage fees on an hourly or minute-by-minute basis come across as far from appealing, that against-the-grain thinking could mean big savings for Internet users who rarely find time to use the Web at home.

Much like cable, looking at ways you use the Internet and how LONG you are on the Internet are important to determining the value of your monthly fees.

A Bundle Is Not Always Best
If you’re only on the Internet to check email a few minutes a day, then it makes sense to get rid of what you don’t need. Purchasing the Internet as a bundle with other services such as phone service might sound like a good deal, it’s like a two for one, but it’s not always the best deal.

Before you bundle your service, ask your provider about billable Internet hours. Some don’t know the breakdown between cable and Internet fees. You want to know what you’re paying for. In my household, it’s about 1/3 of our cable package. That may be a steep price if you only use the Internet for email and a few shopping searches. Do the math: Spending $50 a month to use the Internet for a total of five hours costs you $10 an hour –that’s more than online access at a New York City coffee shop.

Services such as Aristotle offer the option of billing based on usage volume. The service charges about $0.50 an hour for time spent online, that rate would equal savings of $32.17 a month for daily Internet usage of about 90 minutes (versus what you would cost for a bundle deal). On the other hand, if you’re an active user, a flat rate might offer more bang for you buck. If so, there’s still the question of which package.

Surprise, Unlimited Not Always Best

Before you head towards unlimited, consider how you use the Internet.  “Users should step back and assess what they have, and decide if they are really using it to its maximum or if they could be just as happy with less expensive service,” says Kevin Brand, of Earthlink. “If you have high speed Internet, and you’re only using it for email or sports scores, you might be fine with having a less expensive dialup."

Consider this: Unlimited Internet sounds as appealing as all-you-can eat popcorn at the three hour movie, but remember you’re also paying for what you don’t eat or, in this case, don’t click. If you lack the appetite, why pay the price? Cox Communications has plans that range from $19.99 to $43.99, Optimum Online and Road Runner start pricing at $29.95. (Of course these figures mean nothing if you don't know your usage time per month.) If you choose the $44 plan over the $20 plan and spend five hours a month on the Internet, you’re paying $528, which is a lot more than $240, for the year. That’s an overpayment of $288 for an individual with limited Internet access. If the price doesn’t make sense, it should not cost you cents.

While Internet caps have become a hot topic, the most important part is to avoid paying for excess. During these recessionary times, $288 could go towards basic needs, travel or even stocks.

How long are you on the Internet? Do you have unlimited Internet access? Do you use DSL or dialup? Talk to us.

Each Thursday, Common Cents looks at curing common money problems. Write to or place your story suggestions in the comment section below.

Previous Common Cents Columns:
How to Cut Cable Costs
Easy Ways to Grow Money
How to Reduce Your Cell Phone Bill
How to Get A Refund on Vacation Travel

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