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Are You Connected to the World’s Information Highway?
What you should know about Internet Service Provider!

Internet Basics

The Internet, or simply the Net, is the publicly accessible worldwide system of interconnected computer networks that transmit data by packet switching using a standardized Internet Protocol (IP). It is made up of thousands of smaller commercial, academic, domestic, and government networks. It carries various information and services, such as electronic mail, online chat, and the interlinked Web pages and other documents of the World Wide Web. Internet Service Provider Basics
An Internet service provider (ISP, also called Internet access provider) is a business or organization that offers users access to the Internet and related services. Some ISPs are telephone companies. They provide services such as Internet transit, domain name registration and hosting, dial-up or DSL (digital subscriber line – it’s faster) access, and leased line access. Internet hosting services run servers, provide managed hosting, and include the Internet connection.

ISP connection options.
Generally, an ISP charges a monthly access fee to the consumer. The consumer then has access to the Internet, although the speed at which this data is transferred varies widely. Internet connection speed can generally be divided into two categories: dialup and broadband. Dialup connections require the use of a phone line, and usually have connections of 56 kbit/s or less.
Broadband connections can be either ISDN, Broadband wireless access, Cable modem, DSL, Fiber Optics, Satellite or Ethernet. Broadband is always connected (except ISDN that is a circuit switching technology), and varies in speed between 64 Kb and 20 Mb per second or more. With the increasing popularity of file sharing and downloading music and the general demand for faster page loads, higher bandwidth connections are becoming more popular.

Virtual ISP
A Virtual ISP (vISP) re-sells to the general public Internet access purchased from a wholesale ISP. The vISP’s role is to provide any services beyond Internet connectivity, such as e-mail, web hosting, and technical support. The vISP must perform all authentication and accounting functions necessary to provide access and then bill their users for it. This model allows for larger ISPs to increase returns on their investment into what is generally a geographically large, high capacity network, a network that smaller ISPs, as customers of the larger ISP, can use to serve customers in locations that would previously have been unavailable to them.

The history of Internet Service Providers is integral to the development of the formation of the modern Internet, as well as the economic impact it had on the world. Commercial use of the Internet began in the early 1990s, with companies like MindSpring serving limited customers and connections starting in 1994. Many started out as small companies with home made software, and server facilities in their garages. Users would pay around $20 (£11.50) to $40 (£23) for a dial-up connection. Connection speeds ranged from 9.6 kbit/s to 14.4 kbit/s, and connections were unreliable. At the same time, larger companies such as America Online had their own networks and proprietary software for connecting – therefore AOL was a separate network from the Internet, and one that no longer exists.
V.90 was developed in 1998, bringing download speeds up to 56 kbit/s. Then larger companies began to offer Internet services, propelling acceptance of the Internet through advertising. Internet prices also began to stabilize. The price for a dialup connection became $19.95 a month.
By the 2000s, the battle over broadband also began to appear. DSL, which was over phone lines, was an option for traditional ISPs. Cable companies also became ISPs by offering cable modem access. During the late 90s and early 2000s these technologies were in intense competition. Pricing, technology, and market share drove the Internet economy. Smaller ISPs however did not have access to the cable system and DSL was too expensive. Many small ISPs began using wireless technology to provide broadband access. Using this wireless technology fueled the way for wireless networks that are in common use today.
In 2000, the ‘dot-com bust’ proved a serious threat to the established ISPs. Smaller ISPs offering low-cost Internet served a major challenge, as well as an overall slump in the economy. Popularity of the Internet was still on the rise but the companies providing the services were finding a hard time breaking even. Many of the small ISPs still functioned as normal as they operated on revenues and not inflated stocks.
As of 2005, the larger ISPs are turning a profit, often through a combination of wireless, wired and content services, all subscription based. One major challenge in the near future is that of free wireless broadband access, possibly provided as a municipality.

Internet transit consists of two bundled services: the advertisement by an Internet Service Provider of routes to a customer’s Internet Protocol addresses to the other ISPs who constitute the rest of the Internet, thereby soliciting inbound traffic from them on behalf of the customer; and second, the advertisement of a default route, or a full set of routes to all of the destinations on the Internet, to the ISP’s customer, thereby soliciting outbound traffic from them.

Streams/ Cable Company Connections
When a cable company offers Internet access over the cable, Internet information can use the same cables because the cable modem system puts downstream data — data sent from the Internet to an individual computer — into a 6-MHz channel. On the cable, the data looks just like a TV channel. So Internet downstream data takes up the same amount of cable space as any single channel of programming. Upstream data — information sent from an individual back to the Internet — requires even less of the cable’s bandwidth, just 2 MHz, since the assumption is that most people download far more information than they upload.
Putting both upstream and downstream data on the cable television system requires two types of equipment: a cable modem on the customer end and a cable modem termination system (CMTS) at the cable provider’s end. Between these two types of equipment, all the computer networking, security and management of Internet access over cable television is put into place.
Does an ISP need a license from the government?
There are at present no license or formal requirements. All an ISP needs is expertise (both technical and marketing). There are, however, plenty of technical and university training programs. Check to see if your provider has training and especially experience.

ISP liability for third party content
Internet Service Providers are key players in the online world. As they have physical control over the content (gatekeepers) one key issue is the question if and to what extent they should be made responsible for third party content. For example: should AOL be responsible for libelous content posted by a user in one of their forums? Should the victim of that libel be able to force AOL to take that content down?

We have so much more data to send and download today, including audio files, video files and photos, that it’s clogging our wimpy modems. Many Internet users are switching to cable modems and digital subscriber lines (DSLs) to increase their bandwidth. This is often called a ‘high speed’ connection. There’s also a new type of service being developed that will take broadband into the air. (See End of Paper)

Checklist of ISP Features and Choices

Choosing an ISP can be a difficult process. Like buying a car, the more you know about what you are buying will help you make the best choice.

Item: Email
Minimum Features: 1 email address using a POP3 server to receive email and SMTP access to send email
Better Features: Extra addresses, aliases, more storage space, Web mail, IMAP, virus scanning, spam filtering
Considerations: Know whether you are getting email accounts or only an email alias. Many ISPs (most national ones) block SMTP connections for sending mail other than through their email server. If you need to relay email through work or your own web server, find out first if they use port 25 blocking
What is the biggest attachment you can send in one email? Most ISPs limit this.
How much space does your inbox have before incoming email is rejected?
If you close the account, will the ISP forward email to your new ISP for a while?
Item: Local access number or POP
Minimum Features: v.90 modem pool phone number
Better Features: Access Numbers on different networks, roaming access, v.92 modems
Considerations: Do you expect to travel and use your ISP away from home? Are the phones always busy at 9 PM on weeknights? (Try calling before you sign up) Are you REALLY sure the phone number is a local call? Don’t rely on the operator – call the business office of your local phone company if there is any doubt. This is especially true if you’ve signed up with a new local phone company (a CLEC). Their definition of a “local” call may not be the same area as your original phone company
Item Connect time
Minimum Features: 150 hours a month, 15 minute inactivity timer, 4 hour session limit
Better Features: Unlimited access, full bandwidth during peak hours
Considerations: If you hit the monthly limit are you billed extra? As much as $2/hour! If more than one network is used, can you switch between networks or are you locked in to just one? Normally you can’t switch, so choose carefully the first time. Does the ISP use forced disconnects to shed users when all modems fill up? (A common practice when an ISP has oversubscribed their capacity) Are incentives offered to use off-peak time? Daytime only accounts, hours from midnight to 8AM are free, etc. What is their definition of unlimited?
Item Bandwidth
Minimum Features: Solid connections with minimal bandwidth shaping.
Better Features: Connections not constrained by upstream bandwidth bottlenecks or inadequate peering.
Considerations: Can your account be terminated for using “excessive” bandwidth? Are you dialing straight into the ISP, or are you dialing a remote terminal server that may be overloaded?
Item DNS (Domain Name Service) translates server names into IP addresses
Minimum Features: Two fully cached local DNS servers running BIND with lots of memory
Better Features: Good DNS is probably more important for WWW surfing than bandwidth. DNS performance is hard to measure without tools other than by using it – but if you think about the best experience you’ve had surfing, it was probably because you were using good DNS
Considerations: Is DNS run using BIND on a Unix machine? If your ISP runs DNS on Microsoft software, be very concerned. How far is it from you to the nearest DNS server? Is DNS running at your POP (good) or is it running on a central server 13 hops away? (not good)
Item Web Space
Minimum Features: 5 MB for a personal home page with limited bandwidth
Better Features: More space, business use permitted, FrontPage support, CGI scripting, PHP / mySQL support
Considerations: When you hit the limit on web bandwidth, are your pages shut down for the month or do you incur extra charges? How much? Is the web server using *nix Apache or Microsoft IIS? Does the ISP remove pages if they decide they have improper content? (Not necessarily illegal content) How are you permitted to update the pages? Do you have to use only a web-based interface, or do you have full FTP access? Do your email inbox and your home page share the same disk space and size limit? Are CGI scripts limited to a few that are provided or can you write your own? Are web logs available? Web usage reports?
Item  FTP Space (File transfer protocol) An Internet service to easily transfer files around the Internet.
Minimum Features: small anonymous FTP area
Better Features: More space. Password-based access control and transfer logging.
Considerations Are you prohibited from making binary files available for download? What is the ISP’s policy on copyright issues? Does the bandwidth count against your monthly web page limit?
Item Usenet Newsgroup Server
Minimum Features: 1-day binary newsgroup retention: several days for text groups. Posting privileges.
Better Features: Longer retention, more peer news servers, outsourced service.
Considerations Okay, the ISP has 87,000 newsgroups – but do any of them actually have messages? If you are a Usenet junkie, look for an ISP that outsources newsgroups to Giganews, SuperNews or UsenetServer.com Does the Usenet server throttle bandwidth to limit usage? Does the server contain binary newsgroups (pictures, software, MP3s)? Is the Usenet server “Read only”? Some ISPs do not want to deal with Usenet complaints, so you can read the newsgroups, but anything you try to post is quietly discarded.
Item Technical Support
Minimum Features: Monday-Friday 9-5 a trained person answers the phone.
Better Features: Evening, Saturday and Sunday hours (or 24 hrs), Knowledge Base, Network Status Page.
Considerations Is Technical support a long distance call? How long are you on hold? (Consider calling tech support before you sign up with question to try them out) Do they support the computer and operating system you are using? Do they support the e-mail software you use? Are there resources online to help you solve your own problems? If tech support is email only or web-based only, how do you access it if you can’t get online?
Item Billing Notification
Minimum Features: by email of charges to your credit card
Better Features: Paper Invoice, cash, credit card, money orders, online updates
Considerations Are you billed for the entire first month if you sign up on the 28th, or are you billed on the anniversary of your signup date? Does the ISP warn you before your credit card expires and get updated information, or do they let the charge reject and then charge you a fee for a declined credit card charge? Is the phone call to talk to someone about a billing problem a local call? (or toll-free for a nationwide provider) How much is the reconnect charge if your account is closed for non-payment? What are the notice requirements if you decide to cancel? If you prepay in advance (which we bLY discourage), will you get a refund or do you lose everything? How is the refund calculated?
Item Installation Software
Minimum Features: Web pages describing how to configure Windows DUN, special dialer
Better Features: Downloadable installation script, CD-ROM with software and installation diagnostics
Considerations Does the ISP require special software? (AOL, Netzero, Juno, AT&T) If you are using a Mac, do they have a Mac version of the software? If installed incorrectly, will the software disable your ability to use another ISP? (AOL)
Item AUP/TOS Statement
Minimum Features: One sided Statement showing a judge stating the rules for using their service and how they can punish you.
Better Features: Human friendly document, available before starting the signup process, which clearly states both the ISP and your responsibilities.
Considerations What is the refund policy? What are you required to do to cancel your account? Email message? Fax? Registered letter? Under what conditions may the ISP cancel your account? Does the ISP consider your email to be private, or do they reserve the right to read it as they wish? Under what conditions will they disclose your identity to third parties? What do they consider to be spamming? Net Abuse? Are there charges if two people get online at the same time using the same account? What is the inactivity period? Maximum length of a single online session?

We’ve already seen satellites used for broadband Internet access.
At least three companies are planning to provide high-speed wireless Internet connection by placing aircraft in fixed patterns over hundreds of cities. Angel Technologies is planning an airborne Internet network, called High Altitude Long Operation (HALO), which would use lightweight planes to circle overhead and provide data delivery faster than a T1 line for businesses. Consumers would get a connection comparable to DSL. Also, Aero Vironment has teamed up with NASA on a solar-powered, unmanned plane that would work like the HALO network, and Sky Station International is planning a similar venture using blimps instead of planes.

This paper is intended for informational purposes only. Nothing contained herein constitutes legal, financial or other professional advice. Transmission of these materials is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute, any relationship of any kind between the provider and the recipient. Some of these points may not apply in your area. Different term and conditions may vary from state to state and province to province. All articles, text and photographic material presented here is for the use and pleasure of the recipient only. Download PDF

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