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Internet Service Providers

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are businesses that own equipment that enable users to access the Internet for sending e-mail, browsing the World Wide Web, and downloading files. Unlike commercial online services (AOL, Prodigy, CompuServe) who have substantial amounts of proprietary content for users to browse, ISPs primarily function as a conduit to the Internet.

ISP Set-Up

It is estimated that there are more than 2,000 Internet service providers scattered around the country. These range from two-person shoestring operations to national companies with thousands of employees and billions of dollars of network infrastructure.

Connection To The ISP

Depending on your expected usage, you can connect to the Internet via a dial-up line or via a dedicated data line. If only one person will typically browse the Internet at a time, you should be fine with dial-up service. This means that you use a modem and a regular phone line to connect to the provider. A regular 28,800 bits per second (bps) modem is acceptable for most browsing; however, users who regularly visit graphic-intensive sites may want to consider using an ISDN connection to the ISP. ISDN offers connection speeds up to 128,000 bps, but requires an ISDN "modem" and ISDN service from your local telephone company.

When examining ISPs, make sure they offer a dial-up number in your local calling area. This will reduce phone charges for the connection. You should also inquire about the number of modems the ISP has to handle incoming calls. A good rule of thumb is that there should be one modem for every ten customers.

Businesses that will have several people simultaneously using the Internet will want to consider a dedicated line. Dedicated lines directly connect your office to the Internet service provider. You pay a relatively high monthly charge, but do not pay for each minute of connection time.

The smallest dedicated lines are 56K lines, which can handle 2 or 3 simultaneous users. However, most users will want to purchase a fractional T1 line, which can be increased to handle higher loads in 64,000 bps increments. A full T1 can handle dozens of simultaneous users, and even larger T3 connections are available for the largest firms.

Differences Between ISP Networks

Most Internet traffic is carried on large national networks that cross the country. Individual ISPs connect to this backbone via data pipes of varying sizes. If the provider uses too small a pipe, you may face long waiting periods when accessing other parts of the Internet.

To avoid this problem, check the size of the data pipes used by the ISP. Many smaller services use a single T1 line, a data line capable of handling up to 1,544,000 bits of information per second. While this may sound like a lot, several dozen simultaneous users can easily overwhelm this link. Most business sites will be better off looking for a provider that uses multiple T1 lines, or even larger T3 lines.

Firms should also look into the provider's network redundancy. Ideally, a provider will have more than one connection to the Internet backbone, so you can send and receive e-mail and browse outside sites even if one link is down.

Finally, check the number of connections, or "hops" between your provider and the Internet backbone. Many providers connect to the backbone through another provider. Using an Internet provider that is more than two steps removed from the Internet can slow the speed at which you can access other sites.

Technical Support

Finding an ISPs that offers strong customer service tends to be a real challenge. Many providers fail to live up to their service promises, with users often encountering long waits for help.

If you are just obtaining dial-up service, your risk is fairly limited. If you are not satisfied with your ISP, you can usually just sign up with another service. The only real difficulty is notifying people of your new e-mail address.

If you are installing a dedicated line, you are making a much longer-term commitment. Make sure to check references to gauge how much support you can really expect to receive from the provider.

Terms & Rates

Internet service providers tend to offer Web and e-mail access at quite low rates. The cheapest service is a basic shell account, which typically offers unlimited browsing for about $10 or $15 per month. The problem with shell accounts is that you cannot use graphical browsers, which means you cannot take advantage of most of the attractions of the Web.

For full graphical access, you need to obtain a SLIP or PPP account. These allow you to use popular browsers such as Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer while connected to the ISP. SLIP/PPP accounts cost $20 to $40 per month. Not all offer unlimited access, but most set fairly high usage limits per month.

Disclaimer & Product Information:

The text and documents contained in these reports were compiled from a number of different sources, representing many different viewpoints. For that reason, no claims of content accuracy or other legal issues is made. Also, some of these reports were written several years ago, so the information contained in them may be slightly out of date.

No warranty is expressed or implied. These reports are sold and distributed "as is". The reader is advised to seek legal counsel before starting any business or implementing any ideas contained in these documents should the reader need such advice.

Most of the information in these reports applies to people living in the United States. Some of the information MAY be applicable to other countries as well.

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