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What does it cost to get on-line?

\ by Mark Walker\

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Mark Walker, Communications Officer for PACT Community Projects in Sussex, investigated the costs of getting online for his organisation.

What does it all cost?\ \ a) Initial costs

  • A computer
  • A telephone line
  • An Internet account
  • A modem
  • At least one person interested in the Internet!
  • Software

b) On-going costs

c) Conclusion\ \ \

What does it all cost?

Every charity, whether small, medium or large, has a variety of demands on its resources. We don't have large sums of money to invest in new ideas, but we can look at ways of building our expertise in a progressive and affordable way. Developing the use of Internet is no different - it requires a planned approach, with realistic goals and regular review.\ \ When looking at the potential benefits, therefore - which are outlined elsewhere in this book - there are a number of costs to consider:

Initial costs

i) At least a 386 computer or equivalent - generally Macintosh or PC

Other systems can be made to work but you have to face the fact that the average user wants the fastest access, on the fastest machine, with the best graphics. Slower machines can be used for e-mail and other text-based applications, perhaps freeing up a faster machine for other users. But even the most committed net-head is going to lose interest waiting for the graphics to download from a web page, and new users are more likely to be turned off by time spent staring at an empty screen.\ \ \ If you have a computer which doesn't seem to be up to the job it may be cheaper to upgrade: most computer shops will advise you on this. If not, a second hand 486 machine will start at about £500 - it's worth finding friendly techies (who speaks English) to check out what you're getting and how easy it would be to upgrade in the future.

ii) A telephone line

The Internet doesn't necessarily need a dedicated line. Many people use it from home without the need for an extra line (TOP TIP: BT's Call Minder will take messages when the line is engaged and costs just £5 per quarter) whilst in the office sharing the fax line is usually adequate.\ \ The need for an extra line increases with the amount of time being spent connected to the Net, and the number of people using the connection. It can be relatively expensive to install a new line (as much as £90) so it's worth trying other options first. Don't forget to budget for extra wires and new plugs!

iii) An Internet account

You need to be connected to the superhighway - and there are very few toll-free routes! There is no definitive answer to the 'best' or 'cheapest' provider - you have to do a bit of research - or just take a chance and plunge in. The worst it can do is cost you more than you can afford - it should be easy to leave a provider and switch to another. If it isn't you're probably being ripped off!\ \ A good provider provides high quality service to its customers - including:

  • plenty of lines so they're never engaged;
  • friendly, knowledgeable technical staff who can be reached when you need them;
  • an easily understood charging system;
  • additional resources, especially software, as part of their basic package.

So the cheapest option may not be the best, especially as there can be a steep learning curve if you're unfamiliar with the technology. It took me seven weeks to realise that our phone system didn't support modems - the Internet Service Provider was very helpful and even came in to the office to try to work what was wrong.\ \ Almost every Internet magazine - of which there are now a lot - provides basic information for beginners, as well as up-to-date listings of Providers. They are also a good source of free software, especially if you have a CD-Rom.\ \ A sensible budget would be around £100 - £150 per year. Some providers charge a low flat rate for a certain number of hours each month, and then add on an hourly rate for your use over and above this. Others simply charge a flat fee for unlimited access.\ Some providers also charge an initial fee for signing up with them - ostensibly to pay for their administration in creating you an account and the software they give you. This can be anything from £10 - £30. It may be worth haggling over this, especially if you are a charity.\ \ There are cheaper rates available for charities and community groups, but they're often related to providing free disk space to store your web pages, or they're special introductory offers. It would seem that for the foreseeable future we're all going to have to pay for our access, so it's sensible to budget for it. Shop around for a service which suits you and ask for recommendations from people you know.

iv) A modem

A modem is the translator between your computer and your connection to the Internet. There are different speeds of modem, which relates to how quickly it can send and receive information, and therefore how quickly you can perform certain tasks. The speed is measured in Bits Per Second (bps). At this point my technical knowledge fails me, except to say that a 28,800 bps modem is probably twice as fast as a 14,400 bps modem (surprise surprise) and that, touch wood, you are probably never going to need to know anything else about modems!\ \ Costs vary with speed and whether or not the modem is internal (ie fitted inside your computer) or external (generally more expensive). Costs also vary dramatically with time as new speeds are introduced, so it can be well worth shopping around in Internet and computer magazines.\ \ The general rule is to decide how much you can afford - £100 - £200 would not be far off - and get the fastest possible modem for your money. Some look nicer than others, including more flashing lights/fewer flashing lights, and some have software built in which compresses the information before it sends it, which makes them slightly quicker. It's up to you how much you go into these sorts of things.\ \ \ In terms of running costs, the faster your modem, the smaller your phone bill (in theory) because the information comes down the line more quickly. In reality I suspect that you won't spend less time on the Internet - you'll just see more while you're there!\ \ A 14.400 bps modem is considered a good starting point, but 28,800 bps now only costs around £100 and speeds are now being claimed of 57,600 bps. This is actually faster than most telephone lines can handle - but if you can afford it you're protecting yourself for the future.

v) At least one person interested in the Internet!

It won't just magically appear, it will break down and it does take a while to get the hang of. Even a small organisation will have to plan it's development and work out who's going to lead it. This person will have to be a champion of the cause, so will need some knowledge before they start.\ \ Local groups, such the Sussex Community Internet Project which I belong to, are starting to spring up and offer a place to go to ask for advice and help. Finding someone else who is on line is a very definite advantage, especially if they don't mind you phoning them up with odd questions.\ \ \ The person's time is the main cost, and will be heavily weighted towards the early weeks and months. (TOP TIP: When budgeting remember to point out that you if you aren't already then you are about to become worth your weight in gold!)

vi) Software

Perhaps the smallest cost will be software. Internet software is usually provided free with your account, your modem, a magazine and in your breakfast cereal (probably). There is lots of it around but you will soon decide whether to constantly upgrade and search for better software, or get on with what you've got.

vii) Summary of initial costs

You could spend:

  • £ 2,000 on a new, fast computer, with CD-Rom, colour printer and 57.600 bps modem included
  • £ 100 on a new telephone line
  • £ 30 to set up an Internet account, (plus a further £200 on registering your 'Domain Name' so that your e-mail address is me@my, instead of me@my Internet provider.
  • £ 100 on books such as 'Everything you need to know about the Internet'
  • £ 300 on advertising a new position of Internet Officer

Or you could spend

  • £ 200 upgrading your computer a 486/pentium equivalent
  • £ 120 on a 28,800 bps modem
  • £ 3 on a double adaptor for your phone socket
  • £ 10 on “The Rough Guide to the Internet' and the latest issues of a couple of magazines

Or,\ \ you could arrange to use a friend's computer and come to some appropriate arrangement.

On-going costs

Your initial costs may be relatively easy to meeting through fundraising, but what other costs should you budget for?

i) Training for staff

Some national charitable bodies offer introductory courses tailored to specific needs, or conventional commercial courses will help with general skills. Local colleges, adult education providers and resource centres may offer cheaper options.\ Training will need to include both basic skills for regular users and specific skills for the person leading the work, especially if they have only limited technical skills in the first place.\ \ \ The biggest hurdle is finding time for staff to build this work into their schedules. We have tried to include this in training time, but rely upon their enthusiasm to really get going on it. As with so many other technology-based initiatives the best way to learn about the Internet is to be given access to it, the support to make it work when it breaks down AND the time to 'play' with it and see what it can do.

ii) A person to manage the work - possibly an existing IT support worker

Adopting the Internet can (and probably will) start with someone doing it in their own time, or squeezing it into their work on the back of something else. To be taken seriously, and implemented appropriately, requires long term commitment, however, so it is worth looking at how you think it will be used and how much time might be needed. An hour a day to collect and send e-mail is a good start - with several hours a week on top to build and maintain a web site and help other people.

iii) Telephone calls

You should be calling a local number: if you're not you've signed up with the wrong company.\ Telephone calls are still the major unknown in budgeting for the Internet. They relate directly to the amount of time you spend on-line, so you need to make an educated guess about the amount of usage you're going to have. Tight controls can keep it down to a five minute calls every day to exchange e-mail, with a couple of hours a week surfing the web. During office hours this could cost £10 - 20 a month.\ \ Heavier usage, including several people checking mail and surfing will push this up more or less incrementally.\ \ \ It is always safest to over estimate, especially at the beginning when people will spend a lot of time funding their way around and looking for sites of interest. A safe bet is therefore probably £30 - 40 per month. If you can't afford that you need to look at ways of controlling who has access when, including accessing off-peak.\ \ Free calls would clearly be a bonus in terms of costs, and some cable companies offer this, although usually in return for a flat monthly fee and only for off-peak calls. Their local call rates may generally be lower than BT, however.

iv) Internet account subscription

Typical flat rate is £10 -15 per month, which is usually cheaper if paid a year in advance.

v) Summary of on-going costs:

\ You could spend:

  • £ 50 a month on additional telephone charges - this would cover a couple of people on-line for a few hours a week.
  • £ 17 a month for an Internet account
  • £ 1000 a year on a staff training programme
  • £ 20,000 a year on an Internet Officer (my e-mail address is below!)

Or, you could spend

  • £ 10 a month on additional telephone bills
  • £ 10 a month on your account
  • £ 150 on staff training, including 'Internet for Idiots'
  • £ 20 on a subscription to an Internet magazine of your choice to keep up with what's going on.

c) Conclusion

Adopting the Internet requires an organisation to consider a variety of costs, and to assess the potential benefits against these costs. As a bottom line, if you already have a computer the minimum cost of setting up is about £200, with on-going costs of around £250 - 300 per annum. You will also need to consider where the time comes from to support the work - whether paid or unpaid - and training needs of other staff. This lump sum should insure you against additional costs for at least a couple of years - allowing for upgrades of computers which you might budget for anyway.\ \ Not everyone can afford it, but a larger organisation could consider going the more expensive route and could look at initial costs of around £2,500, and on-going costs in the order of £ 25,000 - 30,000 per annum.\ \ \ This is, by necessity, a limited view of what is a rapidly changing situation. Until telephone calls are free, however, and Internet accounts supplied free with your cable TV subscription, you will need to budget for extra monthly costs. This money could be found by savings in phone calls, postage and free information currently paid for, or raised as a lump sum as a fund-raising task.\ \ The decision about whether to invest in the Internet can only ba answered by examining your own circumstances. It can be a cost-effective means of communication, promotion and fund-raising, amongst other things, and it can enable people to share information and ideas. The costs can be, however, so be prepared to approach it pragmatically.

partnerships/articles/costs.txt · Last modified: 2017/06/12 10:20 (external edit)