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Get Yourself Some Backup Internet Service Providers

As a full-time web developer and typical human being, I rely on the Internet for a great many things. So when the Internet is not available, my work (and play) comes to a grinding halt. Fortunately my primary ISP is pretty solid, but it still goes down every once in a while. So to maintain my workflow (and general sanity), having a backup Internet service provider is absolutely essential. Here’s one way to do it..


The tl;dr version of this article: don’t assume that your phone’s data plan is going to keep you online when your primary service provider goes down. If both providers are on the same network, and service is not available, you’re gonna be stuck offline until they get things fixed up. And even if both providers are on different networks, it’s always possible for both to fail at the same time.

Backup as in tether

As probably most of my readers are aware, you can use your mobile phone’s Internet/data as a wireless (wi-fi) hot spot or bluetooth tether for any local device. I use this technique to tether my macOS device to my mobile phone. This enables me to work online when my primary ISP goes out. It’s nowhere near as fast, but it works and helps to keep me online.

When your ISPs fail

Now here’s the thing. A few weeks ago, there was a widespread Internet service outage across the entire state, or most of it. The outage affected multiple service providers, including my main ISP AND my mobile service provider. So for a couple of days, both my main ISP (ethernet) and my backup ISP (phone/data) were unavailable. Maybe just a one-off event, where simultaneous providers go down? Nope, it’s happened before and will happen again. It is inevitable. Be prepared.

During the outage, I felt helpless. I couldn’t keep an eye on anything, not even email. Just sitting there like a caveman stuck in the 80’s without Internet. Moral of the story: even with two different service providers (on different networks), it’s possible to find yourself without Internet access.

Backups for your backups

During the darkness, I made a decision to always have a backup ISP. Not just one, but several. I don’t have a lot of extra $$$ in the budget, but Internet access is super important for my line of work. So picking up some extra backup phone/data lines is worth the stretch. Fortunately, there are numerous ways to get affordable phone/data service. A few examples and ballpark prices for the most basic data plans as of the time of this writing (see popout note below):

  • Mint Mobile (T-Mobile network) — $15/month
  • RedPocket (multiple networks available) — $10/month
  • Republic Wireless (now Dish/Boost Infinity) (AT&T network) — $25/month
  • T-Mobile Connect (T-Mobile network) — $15/month
  • Tello (T-Mobile network) — $7/month
Note: The above service providers are for reference only (not endorsements). I haven’t tried all of them, so your mileage may vary. Also, prices tend to increase over time, so they may have changed by the time you read this.

There are other providers and plans out there, just do a search for stuff like “cheap phone data service provider” (without the quotes!), and you’ll find plenty of options.

Get service on different networks

The key to maximizing your backup ISP strategy, is to choose providers that operate on different networks. That way, if one network goes down, you can try with a different one. You don’t want all of your backup ISPs running on the same network; otherwise, if that network goes down, you’re out of luck. Instead you want to diversify your ISP/data providers, so each one is on their own separate network.

To give you an example, for my own backup ISP strategy, I now have:

  • Primary ISP/fiber — $50/month
  • Main phone backup ISP/data — $25/month
  • Secondary phone backup ISP/data — $7/month
  • Third phone backup ISP/data — $7/month

So that keeps me online with four different ISPs each on their own network. Total cost is less than $100/month. Well worth the price to pretty much guarantee perpetual Internet access. And honestly, I could probably re-shuffle providers and get the cost down even further. Very grateful to have lots of options in the mobile/ISP arena.

Take-home message

My new strategy and recommendation for anyone who works online, is to have at least two backup service providers (so a total of three ISPs). Shrug it off if you like, but these are strange, unpredictable days we’re living through, and there are no guarantees that Internet access always will be so.. available.

Bottom line: have a backup plan in case your main ISP goes down. For as little as $7 to $20 a month, you can get some decent backup data providers, ready to tether Internet service any time you might need it.

About the Author
Jeff Starr = Designer. Developer. Producer. Writer. Editor. Etc.
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