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An Internet service provider (or ISP)

[is a]n entity that provides its customers the ability to obtain online information through the Internet. ISPs purchase analog and digital lines from local exchange carriers to connect to their . . . subscribers. . . . The ISP . . . combines computer processing, information storage, protocol conversion, and routing with transmission to enable users to access Internet content and services.[1]
[is] a company that provides retail access to the Internet for members of the public, or for businesses and other organizations. Those connections may be via cable, DSL, satellite, wireless, dialup, or other technologies. ISPs are sometimes also known as "access providers."[2]
provides a pathway or 'on-ramp' from a transport provider's facilities to the Internet.[3]


ISPs provide two basic services to their clients: access and presence. Access services consist of an account through which the client can access the Internet and send e-mail. A presence account generally includes hard drive space that permits the client to have a web page or file transfer site. Persons who wish to run a site at their own domain, rather than at the domain of their service provider, can either make the significant investment in computer hardware, networking hardware, and high-speed access necessary to make their domains available on the Internet or can rent space and services from a service provider. This latter alternative, which is analogous to renting from a landlord who makes available offices in an office complex, is called domain hosting.[4]

At one point in time, dedicated Internet service providers, which offered a connection to the Internet but no proprietary content, were distinguished from online service providers (such as America Online) that provide access to proprietary content and also allow their users to access the Internet. Such distinctions became blurred, and are of only historical importance today, since online service providers, such as the Microsoft Network, have moved their content onto the Internet, and former dedicated Internet service providers now offer content as well.

ISP services[]

ISPs do not operate the Internet; instead they sell access to the Internet to their customers, often bundled together with a range of other services, such as web-based email, telephone (conventional or VoIP), cable television and so on. They sit, in other words, near the edges of the Internet, providing a link between the end user and the Internet.

As the initial destination of the physical transport provided to consumers by their communication companies, ISPs have servers, routers, switches, and other equipment necessary to transmit traffic to and from the long-haul networks — known as the Internet 'backbone' — which connect the computer and communications networks that are part of the Internet. ISPs differ in the features and functions they offer to subscribers. While some only provide a link to the Internet and an e-mail application, others have additional applications and direct links to content on the ISP's home page &mdsh; the first Web page that users see when they access the ISP.[5]

Small Internet service providers provide service via modem and an integrated services digital network (ISDN), while the larger ones also offer private line hookups (e.g., T1, fractional T1).

ISPs may log the date, time, account user information, and ANI (Automatic Number Identification) or caller line identification at the time of connection. If logs are kept, they may be kept for a limited time depending on the established policy of the ISP. Currently, no general legal requirement exists for log preservation; therefore, some ISPs do not store logs at all.

There are numerous types of ISPs, including


  1. In re Implementation of the Local Competition Provisions in the Telecommunications Act of 1996: Inter-Carrier Compensation for ISP-Bound Traffic, 14 F.C.C.R. 3689, ¶4, 1999 WL 98037 (Feb. 26, 1999).
  2. U.S. Anti-Bot Code of Conduct (ABCs) for Internet Service Providers (ISPs), at 22.
  3. Telecommunications: Technological and Regulatory Factors Affecting Consumer Choice of Internet Providers, at 3.
  4. Columbia Ins. Co. v., 185 F.R.D. 573, 578 n.1, 51 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1130 (N.D. Cal. 1999).
  5. Telecommunications: Technological and Regulatory Factors Affecting Consumer Choice of Internet Providers, at 9.

See also[]