Ten Ways to Make Your Life as an Internet Provider Easier

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					?From ISPs and WISPs to networks in libraries, businesses, and universities, Internet
use is on the rise. Yet, as the demand for Internet access continues to grow around the
world, so do both the opportunities and challenges for service providers. Just as
quickly as your user-base grows, the obstacles facing providers begin to emerge.From
competition to unhappy customers, the venture that once seemed certain to succeed
can quickly test the will of even the most battle-hardened and tech savvy business
owners and network administrators. However, for all types of Internet providers, there
are ways to make the process smoother.

For All Providers…

1. Set Boundaries from the Start - When starting up a new service, don't let your users
run wide open. You may be OK without putting rate caps on users when you have
only 10 users sharing a 10 meg link, but when you get to 100 users sharing a 10 meg
link, you'll need to put rate caps on them all. The problem with waiting is that your
original users will become accustomed to higher speeds and will not be happy with
sharing as your business expands - unless you enforce some reasonable restrictions up

2. Keep Your Network from Locking Up — Many Internet providers believe that if
they set maximum rate caps for their users that their network is safe from locking up
due to congestion. However, if you are oversold on your contention ratios, you will
lock up and simple rate limits are not enough. Don't make this mistake.

This may sound obvious, but let me spell it out. We often run into operators with 500
users on a 20-meg link. They then offer two rate plans — 1 meg up and down for
consumers and 5 megs up and down for businesses. Next, they put rate caps on each
type of user to ensure they don't exceed their allotted amount. Somehow, this is
supposed to exonerate the operator from being oversold. This is all well and good, but
if you do the math, 500 users on a 20 meg link will overwhelm your link at some
point and nobody will be able to get anywhere close to their "promised amount."

If you are oversold, you will need something more than rate limits to prevent lockups.
At some point, you will need to go with a layer-7 shaper such as Packeteer or Allot
NetEnforcer. Or, you can use equalizing technology like that found in NetEqualizer,
which targets bandwidth distribution rather than relying on deep packet inspection.
Your only other option is to keep adding bandwidth.

3. Good Tech Support Is a Must — Don't put all your faith into the local guru who set
up your network. There are many good technical people out there and there are many
more that will make a mess of your business. This can create some really tough
decisions. I like to use this analogy:

I'm not a concert pianist - not even close - so I can't tell the guy that hacks away
playing Beatles tunes in the piano bar at my local pub from a Julliard trained pianist.
Since I can't play a lick, they all amaze me. Well, the same holds true for
non-technical business owners hiring network techs or developers. They all seem
amazingly smart when in fact they may run you into the ground. The only way to tell
is to find somebody with a really good track record of making things work for people.
So, ask around.

The good ones have no vested interest in making a custom dynasty of your business
(another thing to watch out for). It's like the doctor who needs the patient to stay sick.
You don't want that. Poor or misguided tech support may be the single largest cause
for failed ISPs or issues with selling your business.

4. Don't Overspend - ISPs and WISPs, remember that on the open market your
business is likely only to be valued at three quarters of your revenue, so don't delude
yourself and overspend on equipment and borrowing thinking that a white night will
come along. If your revenue is $500,000 per year, you will be in good shape if you get
$400,000 for your business. And this may just cover your debt. Yes, there are
exceptions and you might get a bit more, but don't expect two-times your revenue. It's
just not going to happen, so plan your expenses accordingly.

For network administrators in both public and private companies and institutions,
funding is not always a given. Budget cuts and funding reallocation can leave
administrators in a bind. So, be judicious when planning and managing your network.
Take things like recurring costs and licensing fees into consideration when making
purchases. Over time, these expenses can add up.

5. Optimize Your Bandwidth — Products like a NetEqualizer bandwidth controller
will allow you to increase your user base by between 10 to 30 percent without having
to purchase additional resources. This allows you to increase the amount of people
you can put into your infrastructure without an expensive build out. Yet, a purchase
like this can be a difficult decision. It's best to think in the long term. A NetEqualizer
is a one-time cost that will pay for itself in about 4 months. On the other hand,
purchasing additional bandwidth keeps adding up month after month.

For Commercial ISPs and WISPs…

6. Make Sure You Have a User-Base to Grow Into — For ISPs and WISPs, perhaps
500 households before you start building out. Yes, you can do it for less, but 500 is
sort of a magic number where you can pay yourself and perhaps some hired help so
you can be profitable and take a day off. WISPs and ISPs with 100 customers are
great, but, at that size, they will remain a hobby that you may not be able to unload a
couple of years down the road.

7. Be the Reliable Alternative — If you are in a dense metro area, and have the
resources, you can offer Internet connections to hotel and business customers with
pay-as-you-go services. Many hotels and businesses have unreliable connections, or
none at all. Obviously you'll need real estate across the street, but once secured, you
can point a directional antenna into the building and give your signal a recognizable
name so your users will connect. Then, offer them the connection for a daily fee. For
many users, paying a small daily fee for reliable service will be worth it - especially if
the hotel or business offers sub par Internet service, none at all, or a connection for an
exorbitant price.

8. Make Payment As Easy As Possible — When a customer is delinquent on paying
their bill, make sure you have a way to direct them to a payment site. Don't just shut
off their service and wait for them to call. For small operators, you don't need to
automate the payment cycle, just send them to a static page telling them how to pay
their bill. For larger operators (3,000-plus users), the expense of automated bill
payment may be worth the extra cost, but with a smaller set of customers, a static
redirection to a page with instructions and a phone number will suffice.

9. Look for a Competitive Credit Card Processor — Your bank will likely provide a
service for you, but they are generally a middle man in this transaction. There are
credit card processing agencies that sell their services direct and may be more cost
effective. These are no-brainer dollars that add up each month in savings.

10. Cross Market — Don't be shy about it. Once you have a captive audience, there
are all kinds of cross marketing ideas you can do for extra revenue. Done tastefully,
your users won't mind. This could be a special with the local car dealer running
coupons for them. Or for something like a pizza place. There is unlimited potential
here, and if you're not taking advantage of it, you're missing out on easy revenue.

Obviously, these 10 tips won't apply to every Internet provider, but it's almost a given
that at least some of these issues will emerge over time. While there's no guarantee
that any network will operate perfectly, these tips should help steer Internet providers
and network administrators in the right direction.

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