Last month, the subject was buying a new computer. Amazingly, some of that advice is already obsolete, although you will not have gone wrong following it.

The price of computers is dropping like a rock. New and faster processors are coming out at a furious pace. I would now raise the minimum processor for a new computer purchase to a 266 MMX or even the new Pentium II’s which are very reasonably priced.

Now you’re wondering how to get onto the Internet. There are loads of ISPs (Internet Service Provider companies) and various programs to choose from. For most people, making these decisions is like throwing a dart while blindfolded and hoping it works out. Let me help.

Here’s what you will need (assuming you have an adequate computer and good modem):

1. A telephone or cable line

2. An account with an Internet service provider

3. Browser and e-mail software

Telephone line

Most folks plug their modem into their home voice line. So, when they are on the Internet, no one can call in or out because the line is busy. It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s acceptable for average use.

For heavier users (especially with multiple users in the family), relieve the line conflicts and order a second telephone line. Yes, the costs keep adding up, but it’s probably worth it. There is special equipment to allow voice and modem at the same time on one line, but I wouldn’t recommend it for most users.

Cable line

There is another solution, if cable Internet is available in your area. Cost is currently about $48 -$55 per month. Sounds expensive, but here’s what it gets you:

1. Dedicated modem (no interference with phone calls).

2. Unlimited-use Internet account with five e-mail addresses and five MB for your own web page.

3. Far speedier page loading compared to telephone lines.

4. Instant, always-available, no-need-to-dial-up Internet access.

Add up the total value and it’s a bargain. One catch – there is a set up fee of $150 to $200 for the company to install a special card and modem in your computer, but this is reasonable.

Service provider account

You can’t go wrong with cable but it may not be available and many folks don’t need or can’t afford such a high-level service. Also, if you use a second telephone line for a fax machine or telephone calls, cable won’t meet that need (at the moment).

Most of you will pay for an account from an Internet service provider who will send you software to install on your machine for web access, browsing and e-mailing via your telephone line and provide you with one or more e-mail accounts.

But which company do you call?

Well, first off – don’t install one of those America On-Line (AOL) free trial accounts. Just try and cancel it! Hah! You don’t need AOL or Microsoft Network to access the Internet – except perhaps if you do a lot of travel with a notebook computer. These companies charge you (and do they charge!) for extras that most don’t need.

If you have money to burn, go ahead. They have neat, entertaining things to offer, if you have time for all that. Also, AOL Canada provides only 33.6K service (maximum).

The entire Internet is available through a regular ISP. The big companies, like Netcom, Istar and Sympatico tend to have more reliable and sophisticated service with few busy signals, but you pay more for this.

Better value is available from some of the small to mid-size companies, but some are far better than others. Avoid companies like Globalserve that do the heaviest advertising of low price deals. This causes too-fast growth, which overwhelms their system. Users are forced to endure frequent, very frustrating system breakdowns and poor customer service.

Select a company with a 56K service, an 8:1 or lower user-to-line ratio and day and evening, six-days-a-week technical support. Start with a short-term trial account to test it out, especially during the busy evening hours.

Try calling technical support. If you regularly have to wait more than five minutes, that’s not good. Talk to friends who are on line about their providers. Don’t hesitate to switch companies if you’re not happy.

Check the free computer papers for local ISP ads. By the way, the free computer papers are some of the best sources of all kinds of computer information. I like We Computes the best.

Next month:

Internet software and configuring your system.