Using an Internet service provider (ISP) used to just be about getting connected to the Internet. But with 4,500 ISPs operating today, many are offering additional services.
One service many ISPs have added is Web site hosting. Companies will usually provide site storage and management for a fee; some ISPs even provide free storage space. For about $50 a month, you can usually get 10MB to 20MB storage, enough for a basic site. Also, some ISPs will process credit cards online for you; monthly set-up and maintenance costs range from about $400 to $500.
A few ISPs are gearing their services toward the small office/home office market. For example, GlobalCenter Inc. in Sunnyvale, California, specializes in dial-up accounts, ISDN service and site hosting for homebased businesses. It also offers Internet packages for specific industries.
Yet another trend is to bundle Internet and local phone services together, says Eric Paulak, senior analyst with Gartner Group Inc., an information technology advisory and market research firm in Stamford, Connecticut. Some companies offer both Internet access and local calling service in one package. "This service saves [homebased businesses] money, and it's easier to manage [their communications] with a single point of contact," says Paulak.
If you need an ISP, contact local and national providers and tell them what services you require, as well as what the others are charging so you can negotiate the best price. Also ask if they offer guarantees for reliable access to the Internet or for their Web hosting services. You can find such companies at http://thelist.internet.com or http://www.thedirectory.org