What is an ISP?
By Danielle Dunne
(IDG) -- An ISP, or Internet service provider, is a company that provides customers and businesses access to the Internet. While an ISP does not provide the hardware used to get to the Net, it does, like a computer or a modem, include software, e-mail, access to the Internet (a phone number to call to get access), and a user name and password.
How does an ISP work?
A computer uses a modem (or an alternative to a modem like a DSL or ISDN connection -- see left for more information) to access the ISP, which in turns connects the user to the Internet. The ISP is always on (hopefully) so that even if the computer is off the user can still receive e-mail.
ISPs usually have different access numbers according to where their customers are located -- these are sometimes called POPs or points of presence.
How do ISPs make money?
By providing services to both consumers and corporations. Some ISPs are beginning to provide many more services than those mentioned above; they are considered full service ISPs.
Full service ISPs offer companies a number of website services along with access. The website services they offer can include everything from Web hosting, which means they keep your website on their server (a server is basically a big computer that people can access over the Net÷for more see LAN left) to Web development, design, e-commerce, and security. ISPs can even offer groupware and telephone and fax services over the Internet. (This is called IP telephony and IP fax services÷for more see IP or VOIP, left.)
ISPs make money by charging consumers and businesses for these services. But not all organizations want to let another company take control of their Web hosting. Many choose to keep their Web services in-house.
Are ISPs always telecommunication companies?
Many telecommunications companies like AT&T, IBM and MCI are ISPs, but there are ISPs that are considered online service providers, or OSPs, like America Online. (AOL Time Warner is the parent company of CNN.com.)
There are also wireless Internet service providers or WISPs, which are companies that provide access to the Net over a wireless connection.
Are there other names for ISPs?
Sometimes an ISP can be called an IAP, Internet access provider, or an independent service provider, which is a company that does not also offer telephone services. Network access points or NAPs connect ISPs together.
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