internet service provider
An internet service provider (ISP) is a business which sells or provides internet access (i.e. a computer network connection to the internet) to their customers. Most ISPs are businesses which charge a flat monthly fee for this access, though some are government agencies which provide the service for free to a restricted set of customers.
Internet service commonly comes in any of several flavors:
The term "broadband" generally refers to any of the others except wireless, which is usually explicitly called "broadband wireless" to distinguish it from older forms of wireless connection which had much lower bandwidth and typically were limited in the types of data they could carry.
Most broadband internet service in the United States is provided by a small number of companies; the laws governing internet service have increasingly been set up to favor the existence of only a single provider for each type of service within any given area. Major providers include:
EarthLink, RoadRunner, and AOL are handled by Time-Warner Cable in some areas. (AOL is owned by Time Warner; RoadRunner is a division of Time Warner)
Questions to Ask
...when considering getting any kind of internet service, and hopefully before signing any kind of service contract:
- Does the ISP use traffic shaping (a.k.a. "packet shaping")? Do they plan to do so?
- Time Warner Cable has announced that they do, although it's not clear what this affects.
- Does the ISP block or restrict access to any ports?
- Verizon blocks access to the POP3 and SMTP ports, and restricts access to their SMTP server in such a way that it is difficult if not impossible to receive your email at any domain other than one hosted by Verizon.
- Time Warner Cable does not seem to do so, though we do not have an official statement from them.
- Does the ISP restrict customer access to their SMTP servers? If so, how? (e.g.: If authentication is required, what sort of authentication? Is email sent through the server blocked if the return email address does not point to a particular set of domain names?)
- Verizon blocks any outgoing email whose return address is a domain not hosted by them.
- Does the ISP have an email address to which you can send complaints, comments, or questions about your service? Where is the recipient of these emails physically located? (Are they local to your area, are they centralized, or are they "outsourced" overseas?) What diagnostic tools are available to the recipient?
- Internet Connection Speed Test by Speakeasy: tests up and down speeds to a handful of major metro areas