What is an ISP?

An ISP, or Internet Service Provider, is a company that provides internet access to its customers. ISPs typically require customers to sign a contract and pay a monthly fee for their services. Some ISPs also offer additional services such as email, web hosting, and virtual private networks (VPNs).

An ISP acts as the intermediary between internet users and the vast network of interconnected computers that make up the internet. ISPs facilitate internet connectivity and ensure that data packets are routed efficiently between different networks, allowing users to access websites, send emails, stream videos, and engage in various online activities.

What kinds of connections do internet service providers (ISPs) offer?

ISPs offer different types of internet connections, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. The most common types of connections are broadband, DSL, cable, and satellite. Few ISPs still provide dial-up internet access and it’s rarely a cost-effective option when they do.

Broadband

Broadband is a high-speed internet connection that uses a cable or fiber-optic network to deliver data to users. It is the most popular type of internet connection, and it is available in most urban and suburban areas. Mobile broadband connections can reach speeds of up to 100 Mbps, making it ideal for streaming video, playing online games, and downloading large files.

DSL and ADSL

Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) and Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) are types of internet connections that use existing telephone lines to transmit data. They’re a popular choice for users who live in rural areas or who do not have access to broadband. A DSL connection can reach speeds of up to 25 Mbps, making it suitable for basic web browsing and email as well as video streaming.

Cable

Cable internet is a type of connection that uses the same type of coaxial cable that delivers cable TV to homes. It’s a popular choice for users who want a high-speed connection but do not have access to fiber-optic networks. Cable connections can reach speeds of up to 1 Gbps, making it ideal for streaming video and playing online games.

Satellite

Satellite internet is a type of connection that uses a satellite dish to transmit data to users. It’s a popular choice for users who live in rural areas or who do not have access to other types of internet connections. Satellite connections can reach speeds of up to 25 Mbps, but they’re more expensive than other types of connections and can be affected by weather conditions.

What factors affect the cost of an internet service provider (ISP)?

There are a few key factors that affect the cost of an ISP. The type and length of the contract make a big impact on the monthly cost. Longer-term contracts—for 12 or 24 months, for example—will often lead to cheaper monthly rates, but at the expense of lock-in periods and breakout fees.

Some connection types require an unused telephone line, others piggyback off of your main phone line. Getting a second telephone line can add to the overall cost of setting up your internet connection. This is even more of an issue with cable providers that factor in any fiber optic cable they have to lay.

The amount of data your ISP allows you to download in a month will also be reflected in the price. Unlimited data plans are the most convenient, but also the most expensive. It may well be that your internet usage fits within a limited data plan.

Finally, the download speeds and upload speeds on offer will affect the cost of an internet service provider. It’s normal for the download speed to be greater than the upload speed, and it’s important to know what maximum speed you’ll need for your online activities.

What if you don’t trust your ISP?

As you might have already realized, your ISP is what connects your devices to the internet and ISPs generally are what keep internet services running. This puts them in the unique position to monitor all the internet traffic that passes through their servers. Is this a problem for the average user with a typical ISP?

The short answer is no. ISPs can “see” your internet traffic, but most of that internet data should be encrypted via HTTPS. This means that your ISP can typically only see streams of encrypted data. This allows it to determine what domains you’re connecting to and how much internet data you’re using and not much more.

A VPN (virtual private network) can be used to make sure that your ISP can only see how much internet data you’re transmitting and receiving. The risk here is that your VPN provider can monitor far more than your ISP, especially if it has the encryption keys to your data and if it keeps logs of your online activities.

All legitimate ISPs in the US, as entities that provide telecommunications services, answer to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and are bound by the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) rules. A fly-by-night VPN with headquarters in a tax haven somewhere doesn’t necessarily benefit from such checks and balances.

So it’s entirely possible that using a VPN can be worse for your privacy and security than just working with a trusted ISP. This is almost always the case when it comes to free VPNs, which typically monetize user data to cover server and other costs. A trusted VPN is always better than a trusted ISP, though.

A good VPN uses open-source encryption protocols and doesn’t keep logs of user sessions. This means that the VPN provider couldn’t monitor your internet traffic and browsing habits even if it wanted to. It also means that third parties—from governments to hackers—can’t force the VPN provider to reveal information it simply doesn’t have.

A good VPN will also deliver download speeds that are close to what the ISP is able to provide. Internet speed always suffers at least a little when connecting via a VPN: the extra steps involved in encrypting and decrypting internet traffic as well as routing it through non-local servers all slow it down.

Updated on: June 20, 2023

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