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How Prepaid Internet Works


Disadvantages of Prepaid Internet
­With prepaid Internet services, users rely on dial-up connections which can be slow downloading shopping pages or video content.
­With prepaid Internet services, users rely on dial-up connections which can be slow downloading shopping pages or video content.
© Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The main disadvantage of prepaid Internet is that it's slow. The standard dial-up Internet speed is 56 kbps, which is the maximum data capacity of a digital phone line in the United States. Dial-up Internet connections make it painfully slow to view images and nearly impossible to stream music or video. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 57 percent of Internet users watch online video.

We should note that several prepaid Internet providers offer prepaid "broadband," which still runs over a phone line. We'll talk more about this service in the next section.

Another disadvantage of prepaid Internet is that you need to buy another card or recharge your account whenever your minutes run out. Until you do that, you'll be without Internet access. This means you have to keep track of how many minutes you have left so you won't be surprised when they expire. There are several different ways that you can keep track of your minutes with prepaid Internet:

  • Some prepaid Internet services come with special software to connect to the Internet. Every time you log onto the software, it'll tell you how many minutes you've left.
  • Other providers allow you to check your minutes on a central member Web site.
  • Some providers will send you an e-mail when your minutes drop below a certain number.

Another problem is losing or forgetting your access number. If you buy many prepaid Internet cards, then each one has its own long access number. If you lose the card or forget the number, then you lost the money you paid for the card.

Also, if you're a heavy Internet user, or you need to access the Internet from outside of the country, prepaid Internet cards can become expensive. If you plan to use the Internet for more than just checking e-mail or emergencies, a monthly plan might be more economical.

Now let's look at your options when choosing a prepaid Internet plan.