What Is an Internet Service Provider (ISP)?

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One of the absolute must-haves for most of us?

Access to the internet.

Without it, many of us would not be able to work, study, shop, or submit information.

And how do we get access to the internet?

With an Internet Service Provider or ISP.

What Is an ISP?

An Internet Service Provider or ISP is essentially your gateway into the internet and all that it offers.

By paying a monthly fee, ISPs provide customers, both companies and individual homes, with a steady connection to the internet. In the last few decades, being able to access the internet from anywhere has become an increasing need for everyone. You no longer have to go to a government office, library, or educational institution to find a computer with internet access.

Many of us travel the world with a laptop and a steady internet connection for work now!

ISPs began offering access to the internet through dial-up and have now arrived at providing internet access available on multiple devices at once. In some cases, ISPs also offer customers services such as domain name registration, internet browsers, web hosting, and, notable for our team, email services as well.

An example of this from yesteryear is AOL, which offered internet access to users from their homes and set them up with an email address under their domain.

But not all ISPs work the same way, and it’s important to do your due diligence and research when you’re in the market for an ISP, so you learn how they work and know what to look for.

How Do ISPs Work?

ISPs can supply internet access to customers via a cable, dial-up connection or a digital subscriber line, which refers to a modem and telephone lines. It is through these methods that they ensure that your internet access remains stable and uninterrupted.

Access to the internet is dependent on a network of connected cables around the globe, including anything from TV cables, copper telephone wire, and the newer fiber optic cables. ISPs help maintain this infrastructure, as they take the data you are requesting from the internet and then send it to server that has the information for you through these interconnected cables.

Traffic will start at your home modem, and then go through several ISP networks and cables, before reaching its final intended destination. The underlying technology behind all of these cables includes as we mentioned above telephone lines, TV cables, and fiber optic cables, but now there is also DSL, stellite and Wi-Fi along with a host of other connectivity mediums.

ISPs are also responsible for ensuring that all of the data that is being transferred when users are accessing the internet through them is safe and secure. They protect users from cyber threats and warn them if they are at any risk. Often they will share information with other ISPs for threats, dangers or emergencies that could harm their users, for example, through an email firewall.

In order to have access to this data, a user or company has to enroll in the provider’s service.

Typically, this is in the form of a monthly subscription. The ISP will then provide users with any equipment they may need, such as a modem, and a set bandwidth and speed to access the internet based on how much they pay. Large companies, government buildings, educational institutions, or hotels, for example, will typically pay more than an individual home as they have to cover a lot of users and require greater bandwidth and speed.

They can also offer services such as phone and cable TV with this subscription, as they rely on the same infrastructure.

Examples of ISPs

If you’re shopping for ISPs, you’ll have encountered some of these names already. But there are some things you should consider first.

ISPs work in a tiered system. Tier 1’s are ISPs that have access to all Internet networks relying only on network peering agreements they do not pay for. They are the highways of the internet, and they then sell access to their networks to Tier 2’s.

Examples of Tier 1’s are Vodacom, Verizon, Deutsche Telekom, and British Telecommunications.

Tier 2’s buy from them and then sell the subscription internet access most of us are familiar with to organizations and home users. On occasion, Tier 1’s may sell directly to organizations and individuals, and Tier 2’s can also send to a Tier 3, a second intermediary ISP, that then sells bandwidth to their own end users.

You also want to understand the type of broadband, or speed, your possible ISP is working with. In other words, how they connect you to the internet.

Dial-up from the origins of internet access is considered slow as it is dependent on older technology. DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) and satellite connections tend to be a bit faster, though still not fully realized.

Cable connections are a good, solid option as they tend to maintain themselves at acceptable speeds. But the fastest option in the market today is fiber optic connections.

While your ISP will connect to a lot of other forms of connectivity while providing you with the information you’re after, you want the access closest to you to match your needs. Sometimes, one ISP will have different speeds depending on what part of a country you’re in, so making sure you select one that matches your needs is important.

Some also offer higher levels of cyber security protection for their users, which large companies tend to prefer. Affordability and the type of bundle packaging that comes with your ISP also play a role for people when selecting one. You don’t want to compromise your security or speed, but you also don’t want to pay way above what you can.

The good news is that all providers tend to have a variety of options and there are typically plans for low-income households to help cover the costs of a good ISP that will fulfill your most basic internet needs.

Popular ISPs to consider are AT&T, Comcast, and Spectrum, as they all also provide additional services such as phone or TV cable for reasonable prices.


Using the internet in the 21st century is a necessity, not a luxury.

With our continuous need and dependence on the internet, ISPs focus on ensuring that it remains an accessible and effective tool for all who need it.

Learning about ISPs and how they work is how you can keep yourself up-to-date and protected.
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