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


It’s time to choose a second ISP.

Why? A single connection doesn’t cut it when you rely on cloud applications. All businesses need internet redundancy. It’s expensive when you can’t connect.

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 quickly compute the general cost of being “unplugged” for an hour, a day, or a week.

Even with 99.99% uptime, 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.

How do you maximize Internet uptime with a backup circuit? When the primary connection fails, traffic automatically fails over (or quickly reroutes) to the secondary ISP.

I will assist your evaluation in three ways: (1) Set your expectations on what qualifies as genuine 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 essential 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 affect all of your services.

Are you sure you’ve isolated the real problems?

Carrier Diversity

There’s another issue to consider. Carrier diversity doesn’t solve the “last mile” access dilemma. You still have a single point of failure.

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

If you’re with AT&T, Cogent, Comcast, Windstream, etc., when something happens to this shared facility, both of your ISPs will go down.

Learn More: The Last Mile

Wholesale Backbone Providers

This issue is also relevant to ISPs that 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) also have outages.

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:

  • If AT&T is slow, Internet traffic can get rerouted over Comcast.
  • If Comcast goes down for reasons unrelated to last-mile complications, AT&T is available so you can finish that giant proposal.
  • Major backbone outages are infrequent enough to warrant serious cause for concern.
  • 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 4G LTE provide true route independence.

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.


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 setup fees?
  • Do we need dedicated, shared, symmetrical, or asymmetrical access?
  • 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 via a simple cable run.
  • Are we moving anytime soon? If so, we better negotiate service move fees in advance.

Internet pricing and performance improve every year. ISPs also introduce 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 many 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 Integris team has decades of experience, and we look forward to helping you understand the nuances of ISPs and the telecom world. Explore Integris Network Connectivity.

Jed is a Solution Advisor at Integris who has specialized in MSP solution development, sales, and marketing communications since 2003.

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