A client was saying, “We’re finally getting on the Internet, and we’re going to start with two T-1 lines.” I was astounded.

“You’ve only got 300 users! What are you going to do with two T-1s?” I asked. “Well, we expect to be getting a lot of e-mail,” was the reply.

This pitiful scene is being played out in offices everywhere. Testosterone poisoning has hit the network. Normally sane network managers can’t buy a big enough Internet pipe to satisfy their perceived need for speed. Suddenly, it’s not how you use the bandwidth – it’s how much you have.

There are two reasons why companies seem to be buying a lot more Internet access than they can handle. The first is that Internet bandwidth is incredibly inexpensive. For less than US$5,000 per year, a company that is used to paying US$1 million per year for telephone service can get all the bandwidth it could possibly use.

The second reason is that ISPs love to sell high-speed connections, especially to companies that don’t use much bandwidth. After all, why sell someone a 128Kbps ISDN line for US$250 per month when you can sell him a dedicated T-1 for US$1,000 per month?

In fact, the amount of bandwidth a typical customer really uses is a well-kept secret among ISPs. One ISP’s chief technology officer told me his company provisions its network assuming that the typical client will use less than 64Kbps of bandwidth, 24 hours per day — a profile that most clients would fit, unless they’re hosting dial-a-porn or some other specialized, high-traffic Web site.

How do you avoid overspending on Internet pipes? Follow three simple guidelines:

•Understand how much bandwidth you really use. If you need a T-3 line, that’s great. But if you need only a piece of a T-1, then don’t waste your money on anything more. Use the SNMP statistics in your router to watch usage and see what you’re really sucking down.

•Buy a usage-sensitive connection. Bursting up at high speeds is fine, but if you’re only going to use 64Kbps, then that’s all you should pay for.

•Find an ISP that will offer you a “burstable T” in which you only pay for the bandwidth you use. Don’t be afraid of that potentially high bill – you’ll find more savings than cost. Although a few national ISPs offer burstable service, you’ll find your best value and service by going with a local or regional provider.

Instead of one big pipe, buy two smaller connections. Why? Disaster recovery and load balancing. ISPs may offer service-level agreements and assure you of their nonstop nature, but that’s largely marketing baloney. The best way to ensure high-speed, high-quality service is to have two connections.