Internet Basics: Connecting To The Internet Through An Isp

Find out what an ISP is and how it works and the most common, the cheapest, and the fastest types available. Learn about dial-up, wireless, DSL, cable, satellite and high-speed internet service providers and how to find one.

Maybe you've "surfed the Web" at work, or at the library, and you want to be able to do the same in your spare time. Or maybe you just want to experience what others have been talking about. No matter what the reason, you've finally decided you want to access the Internet in the privacy of your own home. But how do you do it? First, you need a computer, of course. Next, you need the help of an Internet Service Provider (ISP).

ISPs provide individuals and organizations with Internet access for a fee. There are plenty of ISPs from which to choose, and they offer a variety of ways to help you get online:

* Dial-Up

This is the most common (and cheapest way) people connect to the Internet. All you need is your telephone line, a modem, and special ISP-provided software. Using a data communications method called Point-to-Point Protocol (PPP), your modem establishes a connection to the Internet by contacting the ISP's computer. Dial-up connections are fairly simple to set up, usually taking less than an hour.

Some ISPs now offer a noticeably faster dial-up connection for a slightly higher price. These connections display text and graphics a little quicker, but don't offer any increase in your downloading capability. Therefore, if you want true high-speed access to the Internet, try a DSL, cable, satellite, or wireless connection.

* DSL (Digital Subscriber Line)

DSL uses regular telephone lines to provide high-speed access. With the aid of a special modem-like device, DSL transfers information across regular telephone lines in digital format, allowing you to be online and talk on the phone at the same time. Although, DSL costs more than a dial-up connection, it's still priced quite reasonably. In addition, it's available in most areas, making it a popular alternative. However, a major drawback of DSL is that subscribers must be within a certain distance of the ISP or the connection deteriorates considerably.

* Cable

The same coaxial cables that provide you with television programming can also be used to connect you to the Internet. This is done through exclusive cable modems that can send and receive information at blazing speeds. Unlike DSL, cable signals hold up well over long distances. One disadvantage of cable Internet access is the problem of shared bandwidth, which means the more people who subscribe to cable in your area, the slower your connection speed will be.

* Satellite and Wireless

Some ISPs provide Internet access through satellite dishes or antennae they supply to subscribers. Both of these options are rather costly because of their fees and equipment.

Before choosing an ISP, you must determine what your needs are. If you're planning to download huge files, you'll definitely want a high-speed option such as DSL or cable. But if you only want to visit a few Web sites, check your email, or download a few songs once in awhile, then dial-up will probably be more than sufficient.

Also, cost will probably be factor in your choice. Although ISPs have different prices, a high-speed connection will generally be more expensive than a typical dial-up connection, which is usually available for less than twenty dollars.

Finding an ISP shouldn't be too hard. Your phone book should have a listing of local ones in your area. Look under "Internet Services." Find out everything you can about a prospective ISP before you subscribe to its service. Contact their customer service department and ask plenty of questions. Taking the time to research now can save you headaches in the future, and ensure you a smooth trip along the Information Superhighway.

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