With an ever increasing number of businesses and services moving their operations online, having access to a high speed broadband connection has become almost as essential as a home phone line or mobile.
However, with so many different broadband providers and broadband packages available, choosing the plan that will provide you with value for money access to the internet is often easier said than done.
Many households end up paying over the odds for benefits they simply don't need. So, to help make getting online that bit easier we explain how to get started with finding cheap broadband deals:
ADSL or cable?
ADSL broadband is available to the vast majority of UK households as it's delivered by the same network as your landline phone line. ADSL operates on a higher frequency than your phone, letting you surf the net and talk on the phone simultaneously without disruption.
The speed of ADSL broadband largely depends on a combination of your distance from a phone exchange and the quality of the connecting copper wires.
Cable broadband on the other hand uses fibre optic wires, and is only available in areas where the fibre optic cable network is already in place. The network is currently able to service approximately half of the UK population but providers are expanding its coverage all the time.
In the areas where cable broadband is available it tends to offer the potential for a faster and more reliable connection to the internet, commonly referred to as superfast broadband.
Cable broadband is often available as part of an entertainment bundle, along with cable TV and landline calls. This type of package can be a cost efficient option if you're happy to tie all your services to one provider.
On the other hand cable's vulnerability to surges can be irritating, especially for those keen on interactive gaming.
What broadband speed?
Broadband speed is a measure of the amount of time it takes to transfer information from the internet to your computer.
Speed is stated as megabytes per second (mbps) and will affect everything you do online from the time it takes for a web page to open to whether you have the capacity to watch TV.
As the vast majority of broadband providers price their offerings based largely on the maximum speed they offer it's important to take into account your usage when picking a package to avoid paying out unnecessarily.
Most providers offer a broadband checker service that you can use to measure the speed of your internet - and broadband comparison will show what providers can offer as their flagship speed.
However even the slowest speeds are lightening quick compared to old dial up connections. The 1Mb and 2Mb packages most providers offer as a minimum are therefore more than sufficient for a light internet user.
These 'lower speed' packages still allow you to open web pages in less than a second, use streaming to watch videos and web cams to make video calls - although the image quality is unlikely to be crystal clear.
So, if you're rarely online for more than a couple of hours a day and use your broadband connection predominantly to send emails, search for information and download smaller files, these speeds are more than likely to suffice and are usually the cheapest broadband packages available.
However, if you're a heavy user who frequently downloads large files, likes watching TV, listening to the radio online or enjoys taking part in interactive gaming, the best broadband deals for you will likely include faster download speeds.
Similarly, if you're going to be creating a network of several computers from a single home broadband connection, a higher speed package is likely to be most suitable. This means you'll need to consider one of the fastest broadband deals available instead.
A 10Mb broadband connection may suffice if you use the internet to surf, browse, download audio and stream video clips
20Mb broadband is more useful for heavier users who download films and TV programmes or play games online. The same applies if many people in your household use the internet at the same time
With a 30Mb broadband connection, you can typically download an album of music in just 18 seconds, a TV show in 102 seconds and an entire film in five minutes!
Which download limit?
Measured in gigabytes (Gb), the download limit or usage allowance of a broadband package refers to the amount of information you will be allowed to access online each month.
This tends to vary between 1Gb and unlimited usage, depending on the package and provider. Your download limit plays a large part in determining the price of your internet connection.
Many users fall into the trap of unnecessarily paying extra for unlimited packages. While these can be incredibly cost efficient for heavy users, if you're a lighter user you could be paying for access that you simply don't need.
To give you a rough idea of what your monthly usage may be, a 1Gb limit will allow you to download approximately 10,000 web pages, 100 emails and 20 standard length music tracks a month.
Working out your usage requirements compared to this baseline should give you an idea of the sort of download limit you need to look for in an internet package and will help you find a low cost broadband package that fits your usage.
The price, speed and download limit governing your connection to the internet, is likely to be the most important factors in deciding which package to go for when you compare broadband.
However the extra benefits and discounts offered by different providers may help to sway your decision. Things to consider include:
If you need to pay a set up fee or connection charge before you can get online.
If a free modem or wireless router is included as part of your package.
Whether phone or VoIP calls are incorporated.
Any security features provided.
Minimum contract length.
Any introductory discounts are available.
If you use an Apple Mac, it might be worth checking the provider offers broadband compatible with Macs.
By spending a little time working out how you and the people you live with use the internet it's going to be much easier to find the best broadband service that strikes an affordable balance between cost and access.
Carrying out a comparison of the best broadband deals in 2014 and going with a cheap internet provider that offers the download and usage limits you need means you won't be paying a penny more than you need to, in order to get online.