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Last updated on April 18, 2014 at 1:21 EDT

Internet Service Provider

An internet service provider or ISP is an organization or company that provides access to the internet through copper wires, phone lines, wireless, or fiber-optic cables. There are two types of ISPs, hosting and transit.

The hosting ISP is like a co-location center where it will lease server space to people and smaller businesses. The transit ISP provides a large amount of bandwidth to connect hosting ISPs to access ISPs. The ISP can be community owned providing the service as non-profit or privately owned for a profit.

The internet started as a network providing a link between government research labs and relevant areas of universities. As popularity of this network grew, universities and colleges began to give access to more of their members, resulting in the commercialization of this network we now called the internet or worldwide web (WWW), and ISPs began to emerge. In 1990, a company called The World, based in Brookline, Massachusetts was the first ISP, using phone lines for dial-up connections.

The technology to enable consumers to access the internet depends on their requirements. For small business and in home users, the traditional options are dial-up, Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), broadband wireless, cable modem, fiber to the premises (FTTH), and Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN).

For more demanding users like large business, High Speed Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL), Ethernet, Metropolitan Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, Frame Relay, IDSN, Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM), and satellite internet service, are more apt to be used.

Many internet service providers also have hosting and e-mail services.

A Mailbox provider is not to be confused with an e-mail service provider. Most Mailbox Providers are also Access Providers. The Mailbox Provider will accept, store, and offer access to e-mail messages.

A virtual ISP (VISP) is when services are purchased from another ISP, which will allow the VISP’s customers to access the internet by using the services from the ISP.

Free ISPs are providers who offer the service for free; generating its revenue by advertisements being displayed while the user is connected to their service. Some other free ISPs called freenets usually are staffed with volunteers and run as nonprofit.

Peering is when multiple ISPs interconnect at exchange points to allow data transfer between each network. There is no charge for the data transferred between ISPs. These are called Tier 1 ISPs.

Internet service providers in many countries are required by law to allow intelligence agencies to monitor internet traffic. Modern ISPs use a variety of surveillance and sniffing equipment sending the data collected to law enforcement and intelligence networks. In the U.S. this network is called the Digital Collection System Network (DCSNet).

Image Caption: An Opte Project visualization of routing paths through a portion of the Internet. Credit: The Opte Project/Wikipedia (CC BY 2.5)

Internet Service Provider