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This is a guide to Internet Service Providers (ISPs), which are companies or organizations that provide services for accessing the Internet. ISPs may be privately owned, non-profit, or community-owned.

Originally known as ARPAnet, the Internet was developed as a network between government research laboratories and participating university departments. Later, other organizations and companies joined through a direct connection to the backbone, or by arrangement made with other connected companies, often using dialup tools. By the late 1980s, arrangements were made for limited public or commercial use of the Internet, and the remaining restrictions were lifted in the early 1990s, when the World Wide Web was introduced.

CompuServe, Delphi, Prodigy, UUNet, PSINet, America Online, Earthlink, and Mindspring were early ISPs, some of them beginning limited services in the 1980s, but full access was not readily available to the public. In 1989, the first commercial Internet Service Providers began offering direct public access to the Internet for a monthly fee, in Australia and the United States. The World was the first commercial ISP in the United States, its first customer logging on in November of 1989.

Early ISPs offered dial-up connections, using the public telephone network to provide last-mile connections to their customers. Although several ISPs emerged to offer dial-up services, telephone lines in many parts of the United States, and elsewhere in the world, were insufficient to allow for a reliable connection. With local access dialup numbers and an advertising campaign that included mailing unsolicited free trial discs on CD-ROM, America Online (AOL) quickly became the first ISP for many Americans throughout the country, including rural communities that did not have cable companies or any other means of access.

In the larger cities, cable television providers began offering cable access to the Internet, as they already have wired connections to their customers, allowing speeds that were much better than dialup speeds, using broadband technology. In areas that were served by cable television, they quickly became the dominant ISPs, while many of the early dialup companies went out of business.

Then, the telephone companies began getting into the business, offering high-speed Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) services to customers who lived near enough to one of its telephone switch stations.

Today, there are still some parts of the United States where dialup access to the Internet continues to be the only available option, but a range of technologies have allowed most users to connect at speeds much higher than dialup speeds. These technologies range from computer modems with acoustic couplers to telephone lines, television cable, Wi-Fi, and fiber optics. Options for connecting to the Internet include dialup, DSL, typically Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL), cable modems, or Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN), Wi-Fi, satellite access, and infrastructures in some parts of the country allow for home access to fiber optics. Larger businesses or organizations with more demanding requirements may have access to higher-speed DSL, Ethernet options, Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM), Synchronous Optical Networking (SONET), and some others.

The most typical type of ISP is the access provider. Other types of ISPs include Virtual ISPs, who purchase services from another ISP and are, in a sense, resellers. Free ISPs provide service without charge. Many free ISPs display advertisements to the user while he is connected, while a smaller percentage of them are run on a non-profit basis, and staffed by volunteers. Wireless ISPs offers services over the airwaves, similar to home wireless networks, only made available to a wider area.

The focus of this category is in Internet Service Providers, of any kind. Provider sites, as well as informational sites that are concentrated on ISPs or ISP services, are appropriate for this category.



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