What is an Internet Service Provider?

Internet Service Providers, or ISPs, bring internet to consumers. If you are thinking about changing your internet service, you may have questions about ISPs. Maybe you have a few questions, like:

  • What is an ISP?
  • How do ISPs connect to the internet?
  • How can you choose the right internet provider?

In this article, we’ll share some helpful information about Internet Service Providers.

What is an ISP?

ISP, short for Internet Service Provider, describes exactly what they do. ISPs provide internet service to customers, in both residential and commercial environments. Internet service providers first emerged in the late 1980s and the early 1990s, when internet access first started becoming widespread.

At first, telephone companies operated as ISPs, due to the prevalence of dial-up internet. Later, these companies expanded into DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) connections. Then, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, cable broadband was introduced, and many cable companies began offering internet service alongside TV and voice services.

Today, there are hundreds of different internet service providers, and they can be commercial companies, non-profit companies, or even publicly-owned utilities. Depending on where you are in the country, you may have a number of different ISPs to choose from to get internet service.

How do ISPs connect to the internet?

When you get down to it, the internet is really just a bunch of computers that “talk” to each other, using a worldwide connection. When you send a piece of data over the internet, this data is sent through your ISP-provided internet connection. Then, using advanced, complex hardware and software, your request is sent to the appropriate location, and a connection is established between you, and the other computer.

Jargon? Okay. Want a real-world analogy? Think of ISPs as railroads. Your data is a train, but it has nowhere to go unless it can ride on railroad tracks. You pay the ISP a small fee to use their “railroad tracks,” which allows your train to go wherever it wants to. You have to pay to use these tracks because the ISP had to spend a lot of money to build the infrastructure, and they make some money on your fees.

This is, essentially, how internet service works. You pay a fee, and in return, you use an ISPs large, worldwide network to connect to other computers.

Types of ISPs

There are a number of different types of internet service providers, and they all do somewhat different things. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Access ISPs are the most common type of ISP. They use dial-up or broadband internet connections, such as DSL, fiber optics, cable, or satellite, to facilitate internet connections for residential and business internet consumers, allowing them to connect to the internet.
  • Mailbox ISPs specialize in providing email services for their customers, using special types of servers to store, send, and receive mail. Most Access ISPs offer this service.
  • Hosting ISPs are intended to be used to host websites, files, “virtual machines” and cloud-based servers, and are usually used by businesses and companies, not individuals.
  • Transit ISPS specialize in connecting hosting ISPs and access ISPs together, moving traffic from one ISPs infrastructure to another.
  • Virtual ISPs purchase or rent services from other ISPs to provide internet access, rather than building their own internet infrastructure.
  • Free ISPs are a unique type of Access ISP, offered free of charge, which uses advertisements to monetize the traffic of web users.

High-speed internet providers

Today, most ISPs are high-speed internet providers, because they offer broadband internet through DSL, cable, satellite, or fiber optic infrastructure. This is known as high-speed internet because the connection speed is much faster than older types of internet connections, like dial-up.

How to choose an internet provider

Now that we’ve discussed the types of internet service providers, you may be wondering how to choose an ISP. Because the ISPs and different types of broadband service can vary quite a bit based on your location, we recommend doing some research on local ISPs.

Establish a budget for your service, decide how much bandwidth (speed) you need, and take a look at all of your local options, to make sure you get the best deal, and get a high-quality internet connection, with enough bandwidth for you and your family.

CenturyLink is a high-speed internet service provider with residential and business internet service offerings. CenturyLink is also expanding its fiber internet network throughout the country. Inquire today and make CenturyLink your next internet service provider!

Was this article helpful?
Sorry we couldn't help you find what you were looking for!
We'd love to get your feedback on this article. Please tell us how we can make it better. If you need immediate help with a service or technical issue, please go to the Contact Us page.
Thanks for your feedback!
CenturyLink Product Support
Search Support