IDG ‘s PC World Rates Top 20 Internet Service Providers

SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 4 — PC World has just released its annual list of the top Internet service providers. "Good Providers: The Best National and Regional ISPs," in PC World's March issue, (online now at www.pcworld.com/mar99/isps; on newsstands Feb. 16) rates 10 national ISPs — as well as 10 regional providers, reflecting their growing role in the market. To grade the companies, PC World contracted with Inverse Network Technology to gauge speed and reliability, surveyed nearly 8,000 PC World subscribers to assess their satisfaction with their ISPs, signed up with each firm to test the installation and start-up process, and researched each provider's features and options.

AT&T WorldNet earned an overall "outstanding" rating and a Best Buy Award for its "exceptional performance, easy installation, a comprehensive set of features and services, free start-up, and top-notch support policies." As a group, PC World found that the national ISPs outscored the regionals in most major categories such as performance and support — but not by much.

PC World's survey respondents rated a reliable connection, lack of busy signals, and fast e-mail as the most important ISP assets. Additional survey findings:

* About 50% of home users now use a 56-kbps modem to connect to the Internet

* Nearly half of survey respondents say they use a local provider

*Roughly 40% of the Web-goers surveyed have received help via e-mail.

Some 23% received a response in less than 3 hours, 17% heard back in

3-8 hours, and 23% waited 24 hours or more

In addition, the article offers tips for selecting an ISP for your home or business. PC World recommends businesses look for design assistance, Web hosting services, refunds for failed performance, and high-speed options, such as Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL). Additional tips for finding an ISP: ask friends' recommendations; use an ISP finder, such as PC World Online's ISP Finder (www.pcworld.com/interactive/isps); and call the phone company, which often bundles Internet access and phone service. Frequent travelers should ensure their ISP offers free access to the areas they visit. Also, be sure to ask about hidden charges. Even after choosing an ISP, visit its Web site for updates on expanded services and options.

PC World's Top ISPs for Home and Business Internet Service Overall Coverage Summary

Provider Rating* Area

1 AT&T WorldNet Outstanding National World class except for slow responses to support e-mail.

2 IBM Internet Good National All-around excellent provider Connection is much easier to install than before. But monthly fee covers only 100 hours.

3 MindSpring Good National Fast, easy to set up, and backed by on-the-ball support. Our quibble: a

$7.50-per-hour toll-free access surcharge.

4 Ameritech Good Midwest Nimble performer — the clear Midwest choice over Voyager — excels in everything but support satisfaction.

5 Concentric Good National Doesn't hold users' hands but offers good features, including plenty of overseas access points.

6 EarthLink/Sprint Good National Earns good marks for support, but its Web speed is nothing to e-mail home about.

7 SBC/Pacific Bell Good West Hard to set up, but its great Internet Services performance — the best after WorldNet's — makes it PC World's regional choiceover GST.

8 Bell South Good South The clear choice over CyberGate down in Dixie — especially for Web page downloads.

9 RCN** Fair Northeast Solid all-around service, especially for people who want to upgrade to new high-speed technologies.

10 Voyager Fair Midwest Makes a decent showing in all categories, but Ameritech outperforms it.

11 Prodigy Internet Fair National Sluggish performance and support offset by decent features.

12 Bell Atlantic Fair Northeast Not a bad choice, but Internet Solutions regional competitor RCN offers cable and plenty of ISDN access points.

13 GST Whole Earth Fair West Comes with free access to a Network cool online community (The Well), but Pac Bell wins the West.

14 Microsoft Fair National Ho-hum at best; loses points Network for relatively short support hours and toll-only support line.

15 America Online Fair National A cinch to set up — just pop in the disk — but poor performance and weak support still dog this behemoth.

16 Rocky Mountain Poor Rocky Offers limited support hours, Internet Mountain but reliable service gives it the edge over U S WEST in this coverage area.

17 CyberGate Poor South Hard to install, and speed is just so-so; Bell South easily outclasses it.

18 U S WEST Poor Rocky Performance problems, Mountain especially Web page download failures, make this provider hard to recommend.

19 CompuServe Poor National Once-dominant service is now long in the tooth. Can be a struggle to set up, and support needs improvement.

20 Netcom*** Poor National Suffers from uninspiring speed and support, and lacks a customizable start page and server space for Web sites.

· To rate the ISPs, PC World evaluated cost, ease of setup, features, performance, and support. Performance counts 35%; features, 25%; ease of installation and tech support quality, 15% each; and support policies, 10%.

·

** The branch of RCN PC World tested was formerly known as Erols Internet.

*** In January, MindSpring announced acquisition of Netcom.

PC World is the world's largest monthly computer publication with a circulation rate base of 1.2 million.

PC World and PC World Online ( http://www.pcworld.com ) are published by PC World Communications, Inc., a subsidiary of IDG , the world's leading IT media, research and exposition company. IDG publishes more than 290 computer magazines and newspapers and 500 book titles and offers online users the largest network of technology-specific sites around the world through IDG .net (http://www. idg .net), which comprises more than 240 targeted Web sites in 55 countries. IDG is also a leading producer of 168 computer-related expositions worldwide, and provides IT market analysis through 49 offices in 41 countries worldwide. Company information is available at http://www.idgcorporate.com.