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What is an Internet Service Provider?

An Internet service provider (ISP) is an organization that provides access to the Internet.

Internet service providers can be either community-owned and non-profit, or privately owned and for-profit.

Access ISPs directly connect clients to the Internet using copper wires, wireless or fiber-optic connections. Hosting ISPs lease server space for smaller businesses and other people (colocation). Transit ISPs provide large amounts of bandwidth for connecting hosting ISPs to access ISPs.


History


The Internet started off as a closed network between government research laboratories and relevant parts of universities. As it became more popular, universities and colleges started giving more of their members access to it. As a result of its popularity, commercial Internet service providers sprang up to offer access to the Internet to anyone willing to pay for the service, mainly to those who missed their university accounts. In 1990, Brookline, Massachusetts-based The World became the first commercial ISP.


Classification

Access providers

ISPs employ a range of technologies to enable consumers to connect to their network.

For users and small businesses, traditional options include: dial-up, DSL (typically Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line, ADSL), broadband wireless, cable modem, fiber to the premises (FTTH), and Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) (typically basic rate interface).

For customers with more demanding requirements, such as medium-to-large businesses, or other ISPs, DSL (often Single-Pair High-speed Digital Subscriber Line or ADSL), Ethernet, Metropolythian Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, Frame Relay, ISDN (B.R.I. or P.R.I.), ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode) and upload satellite Internet access. Sync-optical cabling (SONET) are more likely to be used.

Many access providers also provide hosting and email services.

Hosting ISPs

Hosting ISPs routinely provide email, FTP, and web-hosting services. Other services include virtual machines, clouds, or entire physical servers where customers can run their own custom software.

Transit ISPs

Just as their customers pay them for Internet access, ISPs themselves pay upstream ISPs for Internet access. An upstream ISP usually has a larger network than the contracting ISP and/or is able to provide the contracting ISP with access to parts of the Internet the contracting ISP by itself has no access to.

In the simplest case, a single connection is established to an upstream ISP and is used to transmit data to or from areas of the Internet beyond the home network; this mode of interconnection is often cascaded multiple times until reaching a Tier 1 carrier. In reality, the situation is often more complex. ISPs with more than one point of presence (PoP) may have separate connections to an upstream ISP at multiple PoPs, or they may be customers of multiple upstream ISPs and may have connections to each one of them at one or more point of presence.

Virtual ISPs

A Virtual ISP (VISP) is an operation which purchases services from another ISP (sometimes called a "wholesale ISP" in this context) which allow the VISP's customers to access the Internet using services and infrastructure owned and operated by the wholesale ISP.

Free ISPs

Free ISPs are Internet Service Providers (ISPs) which provide service free of charge. Many free ISPs display advertisements while the user is connected; like commercial television, in a sense they are selling the users' attention to the advertiser. Other free ISPs, often called freenets, are run on a nonprofit basis, usually with volunteer staff.

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