What is an ISP? The companies that provide you with access to the internet, explained

What is an ISP? The companies that provide you with access to the internet, explained
ISPs can connect all of your devices to the internet.RoyalFive/Getty Images
  • ISP is an acronym for internet service provider.
  • In addition to receiving an internet connection from an ISP, you may also be able to access an email account and web hosting services.
  • ISPs can come in many forms, like dial-up, high-speed (also called broadband), and DSL.

If you're reading this article, you can thank an internet service provider.

What is an ISP?

Internet service providers, or ISPs, are companies or organizations that provide you with access to the internet.

ISPs can also offer other options, like web hosting and email services, and they can range in form from giant telecommunication companies to small nonprofits.

When you connect to your ISP, you join its network to access the internet - whether that's through a browser, a streaming platform, or an app on your phone. ISPs are also interconnected, and you can connect to many networks as you access different sites.

Some of the most prominent ISPs include:


  • Comcast
  • AT&T
  • Verizon
  • Spectrum

Types of ISPs

The following are several types of ISPs that are in use today.

  • Dial-up: This was a popular option in the early days of the internet. It has since largely fallen out of use, though not completely. Dial-up works by connecting to the internet via an existing phone line.
  • Broadband: This is a high-speed internet option that makes it possible to access high-quality options like video conferencing. Broadband can be accessed through options like a phone or cable company as well as other wireless providers.
  • DSL: Also known as a digital subscriber line, DSL is a type of broadband internet connection that uses a dedicated line and a modem.
  • Fiber: Fiber tends to be the fastest internet option because it uses fiber optic cables, rather than the traditional copper wiring. Since it's relatively new, and it takes time and resources to lay the cables locally, it's also less widely available.

    What is an ISP? The companies that provide you with access to the internet, explained
    Fiber optic networks are generally the fastest internet option available.John Rensten/Getty Images

ISPs can provide Wi-Fi and Ethernet

Wi-Fi is a wireless internet connection that can be accessed through a router, while Ethernet requires a physical wire (known as an Ethernet cable) that connects your modem to your computer, TV, or video game console.

You can have an ISP that works with both. To be able to do that, you simply need a router that also has an Ethernet port. ISPs that allow for both Wi-Fi and Ethernet connections accomplish this through what's called a "mixed network."

What is an ISP? The companies that provide you with access to the internet, explained
You can hook up an Ethernet cable to your devices instead of using Wi-Fi.Chalongrat Chuvaree / EyeEm/Getty Images

Using an Ethernet cable instead of Wi-Fi can also help speed up your internet access.

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