An ISP (Internet Service Provider) is a company that collects a monthly or yearly fee in exchange for providing the subscriber with Internet access. Methods of Internet access include dial-up service, cable, DSL, and more. While some ISPs are local, only serving subscribers in a limited geographical region, others provide service nationally.
When looking for an ISP, consumers will usually start by considering the type of Internet access desired. Some companies only offer dial-up access, which is the slowest — but cheapest — type of connection. Consumers who want cable service will want to check with their local cable TV provider to see if cable access is offered. For DSL service, individuals may have multiple choices, although DSL is not available in all locations. Customers can often call the phone company to ask about service availability or the plans to upgrade local telephone lines.
The TOS contract also stipulates how subscribers can use the service. For example, dial-up access is often sold as "unlimited access," but this is not to be taken literally. Dial-up accounts normally limit access to 250 to 400 hours per month, depending on the company. Truly unlimited access (leaving your computer on and actively connected to the Internet 24/7) is called dedicated access, and is offered by most DSL or cable subscriptions allow dedicated access.
The Terms of Service contract of the ISP will also state rules about hacking, protecting copyrighted materials, denial of service attacks, harassing other people, spam, compromising the service, and many other issues. These are as much for the legal protection of the provider as to let potential subscribers know what the company will and will not tolerate.
Consumers who are planning on using web space provided by the ISP should check for limitations here too. Many companies do not allow commercial websites to be set up on their servers. This usually means that nothing can be sold from a personal website, including a software program that the individual wrote, original music, or any other item. Websites operated through the provider are normally for personal use only, to blog, post pictures, and so on.
Services range in price according to the package offered and type of service. Dial-up is least expensive, but it is much slower than other access methods and often comes with fewer features. Different perks will vary greatly between ISPs, with some offering multiple email accounts, vast amounts of webspace, or discounts for paying in advance. DSL and cable companies will also differ, so customers should carefully read through offerings before deciding. There are many websites that offer reviews from present subscribers of various companies, which might be helpful in making a decision.