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Reference: Internet-Which ISP?

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An Internet Service Provider (ISP) is a company that provides individuals and businesses with access to the Internet. ISPs have the necessary equipment, like telephone lines and digital cables, to serve a particular geographic area, like the Puget Sound or the Bay Area, with an Internet presence. For this reason, these companies are often referred to as Internet Access Providers (IAP).

Distinguishing ISPs from Content Providers

Transferring World Wide Web information across the Internet requires the cooperation of ISPs and the companies who develop and host Web Sites, which we call "content providers". However, the term "Internet services" can refer to access, development, hosting, and then some! So here's how to distinguish one from another:

Internet Service Profile (ISP or IAP)
A company that enables your computer to access the Internet. There are a variety of access methods, including telephone modem (standard with most computers), cable modem, ISDN, digital subscriber lines (DSL), Fiber, etc. ISPs allow you to use one of these methods to connect to the World Wide Web and use a browser to display Internet Content and establish email service. Some ISPs specialize in a particular access method. AOL, MSN, and EarthLink are examples of ISPs.
Content Provider
A company that hosts Web pages on an Internet-connected computer. They make the Web pages available to Web users, who can then retrieve the pages via their ISP. RidgeStar is a Content Provider: We furnish the necessary hardware, software, and services to make our Client's Sites available to all Web users, 24/7.

There may be some companies in your area that are both ISPs and content providers! However, most companies have a tendency to focus on one of the two.

Choosing an Access Method

As mentioned before, there are several major access methods that are supported by the many ISPs. You should choose the one that best suits your needs, but we recommend using either of the following or something similar:

Cable Modem
A cable modem allows you to connect your computer to a local cable TV line and receive data at upwards of 3.0 Mbps. This rate is much higher than the 28.8 Kbps and 56 Kbps of telephone modems and the 128 Kbps of ISDN. The cable company usually installs the service. Typically, they will provide a modem which gets attached to a standard 10BASE-T Ethernet card in your computer with a connection to a cable outlet in your wall (just like a TV connection). Unlike telephone modems, cable modems provide a continuous Internet connection. A Cable connection works great where you are using it primarily to download information/data from the Internet (in fact, the Cable company may have policies in place prohibiting you from hosting a Server on your side of the connection).
Digital Subscriber Lines offer uninterrupted Internet connection over ordinary telephone wire, without interfering with your normal telephone service. Data rates can reach up to about 1.5 Mbps for some situations. DSL provides an excellent choice for home and small businesses. There are several types of DSL, you should talk with an ISP about which is right for you. As with a cable, DSL requires that you equip your location with a specialized modem. A DSL connection works best if you require bi-directional traffic (meaning, you will also be hosting a Server on your end).

Meeting your Internet Access Needs

Before choosing an ISP, you should have an idea of what particular needs you'll need to meet:

  • Do you need Internet access while traveling?
  • Do you want access to a standard Email service (i.e. non-proprietary)?
  • Do you need access to information published on a proprietary network (MSN, Compuserve, AOL, etc.)?
  • Are you a small business or a home user?
  • How much are you willing to spend?
  • Do you need responsive Help Desk services? Can you email your questions?

National, Local, and Free ISPs

After deciding your particular needs, it's time to research the various ISPs. There are many other ISPs besides those listed below, so be sure to explore the options available to you in your specific geographic area:

Large, national ISPs
Compuserve->, AT&T->, Verizon->, Qwest->, AOL->, ComCast->
Medium sized ISPs and getting bigger
Free access (or nearly "free")

You should note that many of the ISPs above offer proprietary services, like email and special service Sites, that make it easier to use the Internet. However, these proprietary services are often difficult to combine with other vendors products - choose carefully, especially if you plan on doing business or other interactive activities on the Internet!

RidgeStar's Recommendation

While we do not officially endorse any particular ISP, we strongly encourage selecting an arrangement that provides you the best throughput you can obtain for an acceptable cost. The actual hardware that is required at your location varies by the vendor, but the key is to make sure you will have an acceptable throughput (transmission rate).