Nine months have passed since we began the process of getting DSL, and our service just went live last week. Our path from query to connection was a jumble of miscommunication, false promises and technical mishaps.

First we had a problem determining whether or not service was available in our neighborhood. One company would say yes; the next would say no.

We finally determined that service was not available and that the yes-men were just trying to get a signed contract.

After service became available, our local phone company sold us a business package that didn't meet our needs. In this case we got caught between a sales team that over-promised and a technical team that couldn't make the package work. We lost three months while the two groups tried to work out the problem.

Eventually, we selected a new provider that gave us a 40-day installation estimate. This provider missed every milestone in the delivery schedule and waited a week to respond to our customer-service inquiries.

The time my staff had to spend battling with this company cost us a huge sum in lost productivity. Though the company finally provided us with reliable DSL service, we'd hesitate to recommend this firm to other companies.

What we learned during our DSL ordeal is worth sharing to prevent you from suffering through the same frustration. If you're ready to take the DSL plunge, use these tips to avoid headaches.

-Determine availability. One of the primary factors that determine whether or not you have access to DSL is your proximity to a telephone company's central office. To find the closest central office, visit www.dslreports.com.

-Prioritize your needs. Companies that provide DSL service create service packages to appeal to different market segments. Create a chart of providers in your area and compare their prices, bandwidth offering, customer-service channels, security measures and any other details that are important to you. This will help you pinpoint the provider that can best meet your needs.

-Talk to other users. If you know people in your area who have DSL, find out which service provider they selected and why. Ask if they are satisfied with the company's customer service and if they have suffered service outages. Also, find out what questions, if any, they wish they had asked before signing on the dotted line.

-Check the installation date. Three different providers will give you three different installation dates. This is because each one may follow different installation procedures, and some may be facing order backlogs.

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