The internet is a wonderful resource to use.
However, to use this tool, you need service, which is something only an internet service provider can give you.
Here's a closer look at what an ISP is as well as the many functions it can serve.
In This Guide
What is an ISP?
An internet service provider is a company tasked with delivering an internet connection to its customers. If you are a homeowner or rent an apartment, you contact your internet service providers (Comcast, AT&T, Spectrum, etc.) to set up service.
How this works is they will send a technician or the equipment to your home. As part of the equipment, you might receive a wireless router. This is a useful tool in that many ISPs use the routers as their WiFi gateways, resulting in you and everyone in your household having access to wireless internet.
For each device and gateway node, you'll receive an IP address. This is your digital address that differentiates you from other users. You can find your IP address by searching for it through Google. You can also find your provider IP address by contacting them.
There are different internet services your provider could offer. These depend on the area you live, the services they have available, and the download/upload speeds you require.
Some of the internet connections available include:
This is where you connect your computer to a phone line to establish an internet connection. If you live in a remote area, this option might be available to you depending on your internet service provider. With dial-up you receive much slower connection speeds than if you used cable or DSL.
DSL stands for digital subscriber line. How DSL works is it transfers signals with ISP providers using standard telephone lines. So, if you want high-speed internet service a technician would come to install a connection. This is where they would connect a cable into the telephone jack on a wall then one through the router. From there, they would connect another one from your modem to your computer. DSL offers much faster speeds than dial-up. However, similar to dial-up, it is declining in popularity.
A cable internet connection differs from DSL in that it uses the cable television network for its network infrastructure whereas DSL relies on the telephone network. Many ISPs offer broadband connection now through their bundling services, where you can receive access to cable TV, the internet, and phone services for one flat fee.
Some ISPs such as Verizon are offering fiber internet to more of their customers. Fiber internet delivers fast connection speeds thanks to the optical cables. These cables transmit data quickly so you can access the internet faster than you would by using DSL or a cable connection. Furthermore, the FCC reports fiber internet delivers higher connection speeds consistently, making it a great option if it's available to you.
Satellite internet is another option available, often for those who live in remote areas. With this, the provider comes out to your home to set up equipment. This includes a satellite dish used to gain signal access to a web host. Satellite internet is a faster alternative to dial-up, but it can be more expensive than cable and DSL internet.
What Other Functions Do ISPs Serve?
ISPs assign internet service on a subscription basis. Normally, this works by contacting their customer service department to sign up for service. From there, the ISP bills you in monthly increments based on the price advertised. If the ISP has data caps and you exceed them, you could pay an additional amount specified by that provider.
Many ISPs offer technical support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They can run diagnostic tests on your internet connection to ensure it's working correctly. In the event it doesn't, they can dispatch technicians to your place of residence to fix the issues.
Since ISPs advertise specific speeds for their service packages it's important to test these after receiving service. You can do specific testing such as an ISP speed test to ensure your network's upload and download connection speeds are as advertised. If they are not even close, it's important to contact tech support immediately.
Perks ISPs Offer
Along with internet service, many ISPs offer added benefits for their customers. Some of these include:
- Free internet security suites to help protect your device from malware, spam, and hackers.
- Free email accounts
- Free storage via the cloud--this is a great benefit if you need to store much in the way of photos, documents and more.
- Educational tools that help you make safer decisions online.
What is Net Neutrality?
The biggest concern with the internet is keeping it a neutral entity, meaning people can use it as a free resource. This is why net neutrality is so important because it allows you to access what you want when you go online.
If this changes, it could alter how you pay and access the internet. To demonstrate, if net neutrality becomes a thing of the past, you could pay your ISP for internet access then pay additional fees to have access to certain websites. It would be akin to the cable pricing model. You pay a monthly fee to access a base level of channels, but if you want additional options you pay more for the access.
How Does This Affect ISPs?
Many ISPs are in favor of doing away with net neutrality because they stand to profit more. They could throttle down your connection speeds when using streaming services, forcing you to pay more for a faster plan and companies could buy faster connection speeds. This means if you go to a website like Facebook you could receive more reliable service than visiting a local coffee shop's website.
Things to Keep in Mind with ISPs
Here are some things to be mindful of when using an ISP:
- Check to see how reliable a provider's service is before signing up. You can read helpful reviews from our website, talk to friends and family, or even use the American Customer Satisfaction Index to find the best internet service provider.
- Does the provider have ISP certification?
- What encryption level do they offer?
- Does the internet access provider offer unlimited access to data? This can be similar to telecommunications service where you have access to a specified amount of data. Upon exceeding it, an ISP throttle will happen. This is where the provider slows connection speeds until your next billing cycle or if you upgrade your plan.
- When using an ISP, your information can become susceptible to hackers. With this in mind, you should add another layer of protection. A virtual private network (VPN) can give you anonymity as you use the web as well as protect your data. To find the right VPN service for you, be sure you read our helpful guide on the most reputable providers.
Overall, ISPs provide internet service and a wealth of free resources such as security software and educational tools on safe browsing behaviors to employ. However, when using ISPs it's important to practice safeguards to protect your data such as using a VPN.
If you're unhappy with your current ISP, it may be time to switch. You can compare the Internet providers in your area here.