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Internet Service Provider (ISP)

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An Internet Service Provider is a business or other organization that provides users with access to the Internet, either by letting the users dial in with modems to servers maintained by the provider or through providing them with faster direct connections.

Some "providers" are actually computer offices in universities or other large organizations that provide connections to employees, faculty, or students. Most are small businesses whose main customer base consists of dial-in modem users. Cable and telecommunications companies are beginning to offer Internet access along with their other services.

The criteria used to choose an Internet provider differs depending on one's needs. Those who want to dial up to the Internet for personal or family use won't have requirements as elaborate as those who need to establish a business online.

The most important thing is to find a provider that is either close to home or that offers toll-free access, so as to escape high telephone bills.

The type of Internet service you obtain from a provider depends on your level of use: whether you plan on using the Internet for personal communications and information-gathering, or whether you plan on starting a business online.

For personal use, that is, if you need to send and receive email, post and receive newsgroup messages, a shell, SLIP, or PPP connection is adequate. Shell accounts require you to use a command-line interface and usually to learn associated UNIX commands. SLIP and PPP accounts allow you to use MacTCP-based applications like Web browsers.

If you plan to go beyond simply navigating the Internet and instead want to start up an online business, you need to consider a leased line or 56Kbps link. If you might have up to a hundred visitors at once, you might have to get one or more T1 lines or a much more expensive T3 link. You also need to be prepared to create a Web site with a home page or pages for your business and possibly additional documents connected by hypertext links. You will be responsible for updating the contents of the site and for responding to requests or inquiries from your visitors. Discuss with your provider how many visitors you expect to have and whether you will need assistance with processing data obtained via forms or other feedback mechanisms.

The following table describes some of the typical types of connections offered by Internet service providers:

Internet Service Provider Accounts
Account Description
Shell account The basic bare-bones connection to the Internet. Allows users to send and receive email, telnet, FTP, gopher, and so on, but not MacTCP-based applications like Web browsers.
TIA (The Internet Adapter) Inexpensive commercial product that allows users to run a shell account as a SLIP or PPP account.
SLIP/PPP Basic protocols that allow users to dial up with a modem and connect to the Internet and use Mac-based graphical client software.
ISDN High-speed network connections that provide access to the Internet via dial-up digital modems.
Leased lines 56K, T1 through T3 lines that have high speed and high bandwidth.