Getting the best connection | ACMA

Getting the best connection

Understanding what is involved with setting up an internet account can be confusing—for starters, you need to understand terms such as dial-up, broadband, megabytes, modems and ISP.

The devices you need for an internet connection will depend on the type of connection you would like. The options available to you may vary depending on where you live.

As with any purchase, it's important not to be tempted by advertising, packaging design or point-of-sale displays, if you are unsure of the product or service you really need.

When choosing an internet service provider, make sure your questions are answered before you buy a product or sign a contract for service. You should consider:

  • whether you require a special type of modem, special hardware that is inserted into your computer or a satellite dish

  • whether you need your hardware to be installed by a trained professional, which will involve an installation fee

  • what you are going to use the connection for, and how much you think you'll download

  • your budget.

This section will help you with a guide to internet technologies, quality of service and the Internet Assistance Program.

What is an Internet service provider?

An internet service provider (ISP) supplies, or arranges to supply, a service that enables users to access the internet. An ISP may own the facilities (e.g. central computer, modems) it uses to deliver the service or it may use the facilities of another provider, in the case of a 'virtual ISP'.

What is a dial-up connection?

Most residential users use a dial-up connection, also known as narrowband access. This involves using a dial-up modem to dial an ISP via a phone line. The dial-up modem can either be a separate (external modem) device or built into the computer (internal modem). If you only have one telephone number at home, you will not be able to make or receive telephone calls from your phone while using the internet unless you make special arrangements with your telephone company. These arrangements would involve your computer and other additional equipment.

What is a broadband connection?

Broadband is a general term used for any type of technology that provides high rate data connection. Broadband can be defined as a service with a data rate capability of more than 200 kilobits per second (kbit/s).

Broadband service is 'always on' so you do not have to dial-up for a connection. Broadband is capable of supporting a variety of voice and data applications like voice telephony, internet access, pay TV and multimedia services.

What do I need for a broadband connection to the Internet?

The devices you need for a broadband connection to the Internet will depend on the type of broadband connection you would like. Broadband is currently available in three different technologies, depending on where you live: cable, ADSL or satellite.

You may require a special type of modem, special hardware that is inserted into your computer, and/or a satellite dish. The required hardware may need to be installed by a trained professional and involve an installation fee. Be sure to ask your ISP about the costs of the additional hardware and the installation options.

What is download?

Download (or data downloaded) is any data retrieved from another computer on a network, for example, text, pictures or sound. Viewing a page on the internet is downloading data from another computer and contributes to any download limits placed on your account by your ISP.

What is a megabyte?

Megabyte (MB) is the term used to describe a unit of data. A MB is measured as 1,048,576 bytes, or one million bytes. At present, there is no accepted single industry standard for the calculation of MB, or gigabytes. Industry currently uses two methods of calculation, either binary and decimal.

As a guide:

  1. you can view approximately 20 pages on the internet for each MB of download;

  2. an average four minute MP3 (music file) is approximately four MB; and

  3. a five minute movie trailer can be as much as 30 MB.

Ask your ISP if they have facilities to monitor your download amounts to avoid any unnecessary excess download charges. It may also be an idea to check that your ISP account type suits your current download amounts.

What is a modem?

A modem is the device used to connect your computer to the internet. Different types of modems are available. Some are used for dial-up access purposes and others are used for broadband access.

A dial-up modem converts (modulates) digital signals sent by the computer to analog signals for transmission through the standard telephone lines. A dial-up modem also converts (demodulates) incoming analog signals from a telephone line and converts it to a digital signal for the computer.

What about modem speeds?

The speed or rate of a modem is measured by the number of kilobits of data it can transmit per second (expressed as kbit/s). The more kbit/s transferred the faster pages or other material such as music and email can be downloaded from the internet.

The most commonly used dial-up modems have a maximum data rate of 56 kbit/s. Be aware that the maximum rate you can connect to the internet is not a guaranteed rate. Due to a number of reasons, most of which are outside the control of your ISP, your connection will not generally run at this speed.

Internet assistance program

The internet assistance program (IAP) offers a free testing and advice service to help you optimise your Internet connection.

The IAP also offers a support service on 1800 427 457 (free call).

Click here for a fact sheet on the internet assistance program.

Please note: this document is intended as a guide only and should not be relied on as legal advice or regarded as a substitute for legal advice in individual cases.


Last updated: 10 June 2015