What to Look for when Choosing a Second ISP (& Why You Need One)

What to Look for when Choosing a Second ISP (& Why You Need One)



Jed Fearon

Solution Advisor, 17+ years of experience in MSP Solution Development, Sales and Marketing Communications

Internet redundancy is no longer a luxury. It’s a necessity.

One Gartner Group study pegs the hourly cost of downtime at $5,600.00 per minute. While this dramatic figure assimilates data from various small and midsize businesses in different industries, you can easily compute the general cost of being “unplugged” for an hour, a day, or a week.

Learn More: Gartner Blog

Even with 99.99% uptime (which sounds impressive), businesses can still experience two weeks of unplanned downtime per year.

Two Internet Service Providers (ISPs) working in unison will minimize disruption and make your business more resilient.

The goal of this article is to help you maximize Internet uptime with backup circuit solutions that automatically failover (or more realistically, quickly re-route) when the primary connection falters or simply fails.

I will assist your evaluation in three ways: (1) Set your expectations on what qualifies as true redundancy (2) Help you establish specific buying criteria for adding another ISP (3) Show you how to be ready for the transition.

Is 100% Uptime Realistic?

If you’re strongly considering adding another Internet connection, there’s a good chance you’ve experienced one or more outages with your current provider.

Do you know the ultimate cause of each disruption that affected Internet access?

The following variables are important to examine and they’re not under the control of your ISP:

  • Local construction projects – lines get cut all the time
  • Client equipment failure – switches, routers, and firewalls conk out
  • Client network congestion – LAN design flaws choke speeds
  • Area power outages – the electrical grid is prone to lapses
  • Celestial storms – solar flares and weather conditions in space impede satellite and wireless communications

A shifting combination of these factors will always be at play and will affect all of your services.

Are you absolutely sure you’ve isolated the real problems?

There’s another issue to consider. “Last mile” access is a glaring single point of failure that is not addressed by carrier diversity.

Why? Cable, fiber, and wireline services from different providers all run over the same connection into your building and ultimately into your phone closet.

It doesn’t matter if you’re with AT&T, Cogent, Comcast, or Windstream, etc. - when something happens to this shared facility – both of your ISPs will go down

Learn More: The Last Mile

This is also true with ISPs who use the same wholesale backbone providers. When ISP vendors like CenturyLink (formerly Level 3) have major system outages, their clients, (hopefully not your two ISPs), have outages as well.

Please don’t get too worried. There are four good reasons why two connections from two different (hypothetical) providers offer a significant performance boost and redundancy benefit:

1. If AT&T is slow, Internet traffic can get re-routed over Comcast.
2. If Comcast goes down for reasons unrelated to last-mile complications, AT&T is available so you can finish that giant proposal.
3. Major backbone outages are infrequent enough to warrant serious cause for concern.
4. The various backbone providers frequently upgrade their facilities (with additional paths/capacity) or the ISPs they serve will choose other carriers.

For businesses who require 100% Internet uptime, legacy wireless options like LTE provide true route independence.

Learn More: 4G LTE 101

5G is even better but not widely available yet so it’s too soon for me to hype it. However, I would encourage you to explore.

Learn More: 5G

Choosing a Secondary ISP

How long have you been with your current ISP? A year or two? In the telecom (ISP) world, a lot of things can change in a relatively short time. Four factors are constantly at play:

  • Innovation – better, faster, and “cheaper” technology
  • Consolidation – rampant merger and acquisition activity
  • Employee changes – high levels of industry turnover
  • Pricing wars – ISPs are caught in the proverbial race to zero

There’s a good chance, your secondary ISP may be a better candidate to assume the role of primary ISP. The following considerations will help you prioritize your evaluation:

  • What is the monthly budget for ISP services?
  • Will our budget cover the one-time set up fees?
  • Do we need dedicated, shared bandwidth, symmetrical, or asymmetrical bandwidth?
  • What are the contract terms?
  • Can we get both of our ISP agreements on matching 12, 24, or 36-month terms?
  • What ISP options are available in our area?
  • Is our office building already “lit”? Check with property management to see if fiber services are available and can be activated with a simple cable run.
  • Are we moving anytime soon? If so, we better negotiate service move fees in advance.

In addition to having more robust Internet options at more competitive prices (compared to a few years ago), they may also have new offerings like VoIP AKA Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) and Software-Defined Wide Area Network solutions (SD-WAN).

Learn More: What is SD-WAN?

Notice how the evaluation is starting to get a little more complicated?

It’s time to get an assist.

Take a hard pause and engage your MSP right away. (Hopefully, they’re the ones who inspired you to consider new options, but this is not always the case.)

New service additions often bring changes and surprises. Since all things Internet-related affect your network settings and vice versa, only your MSP will have the visibility and expertise to take the lead and address a host of common concerns:

  • How is this project going to be managed?
  • Since the client is adding voice services, it’s imperative that we coordinate the upcoming number port with the carrier to make sure the network settings are ready for the cutover.
  • Does the client have enough static IP addresses to cover all relevant endpoints?
  • If the UCaaS service involves new IP handsets, we will need to run additional CAT6 cabling. We also may need to upgrade the capacity of the client’s switch and go with a Power Over Ethernet (PoE) model.
  • A few of the proposals we have reviewed are more expensive because they include duplicate services our client does not need (like a managed firewall and data backup).
  • Some of the ISP Service Level Agreements promise 99.99% uptime and others guarantee 99.999% uptime. Does our client know the difference?
  • The new provider is offering a faxing solution that is not compliant with our client’s cybersecurity framework. We’ll need to explore a supplemental solution.

I have just scratched the surface here. There are a lot of moving parts and your MSP probably knows where they are and exactly what they do.

What’s Next?

Some MSPs are signed up as resellers for telecom Master Agents who broker hundreds of different telecom services. The business model is very similar to insurance brokerage. (The telecom broker gets a commission from the provider.)

Other MSPs simply have relationships with resellers that they refer to their clients. They also have the inside scoop on which providers are most reliable, easiest to work with, and have the financial health to be viable long-term partners (relatively speaking).

The ProviDyn team has decades of experience, and we look forward to helping you understand the nuances of ISPs and the telecom world.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also like some of the related content in our free eBook.