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ISPs explained: what they do and why you should care

What is an ISP explained

ISP is an acronym for Internet Service Provider, a company that provides households and organizations access to the internet. You may have a computer with a built-in modem and a router for networking, but you cannot have an internet connection without an ISP. It’s essentially the link between your computer and the online world.

Some Internet Service Providers also offer services like email, web hosting, domain registration, browser packages, and more. Such companies also ensure people safely and quickly access the internet without issues by maintaining network infrastructures on their end.

However, there’s much more to what ISPs are capable of, their types, how they work, and why you shouldn’t blindly trust your internet provider. Let’s dig in.

What does an ISP do?

While ISPs started by providing customers with access to the internet, nowadays, these companies offer a variety of services. Besides being the sole way to jump into the digital world, they may also include:

  • Telephone & cable television services
  • Domain name & web hosting services
  • Browser & software packages
  • Email services
  • Equipment rental
  • Colocation
  • And more

Of course, what kind of services you can additionally bundle with an internet service package depends on the ISP and your location. Another thing to consider is that internet providers also offer different methods for their customers to access the web.

Types of ISP connections

Internet Service Providers utilize different advanced technologies to connect their clients to the internet. Internet connection types are categorized into:

  • Dial-up internet. Dial-up is an internet connection that sends and receives data via a phone line through a special modem. It is one of the cheapest ISP types, albeit one of the slowest, too. With the advent of fiber optics and other more advanced internet connection types, dial-up ISPs aren’t very popular anymore.
  • DSL providers. Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) comes through your phone line just like the dial-up. The key difference between DSL and dial-up is that DSL internet connections are much faster and allow you to use your phone and the internet simultaneously. DSL internet is still prevalent in rural areas among customers who browse or stream videos only on one device.
  • Cable providers. A cable internet service offers internet access through a coaxial cable. This connection also requires a modem, usually rented from the Internet Service Provider or bought from a computer dealer. The advantage is that you can save money by bundling internet and TV services. Typically, cable internet has low latency, 10-150 Mbps download speed, and 5-50 Mbps upload speed.
  • Fiber internet providers. Fiber internet connections offer access to superfast broadband via individual fiber optic cables. As such, data is transmitted at the speed of light, making it the best choice for heavy internet users who require sufficient bandwidth for high-definition video and online games. Fiber internet usually has 250-1000 Mbps download and upload speed.
  • Wi-Fi internet. WiFi providers primarily offer wireless connectivity, eliminating the need for a modem. Instead, customers who use Wi-Fi can freely move around and stay connected to the web via pocket-sized network devices. However, Wi-Fi connections’ stability and bandwidth capability greatly depend on the ISP service and your chosen plan.
  • Satellite internet providers. Satellite internet connections are accessible to individuals who cannot receive DSL or cable internet connection. Satellite connections have the highest latency because data is sent to space and back. Satellite ISPs generally function in remote or rural areas where broadband internet service is unavailable.

Again, the availability of connection types depends on the ISP and the customer’s location. As you can see, each comes with particular use cases, different internet speeds, and varied connectivity. Naturally, there are more types of connectivity we haven’t covered, such as access providers, virtual ISPs, transit, etc.

What information can my ISP see?

Internet Service Providers are the ones who assign customers their IP addresses. Not many users know that an IP address is like a virtual log book of everything you do online. It can be used to pinpoint your geolocation, restrict website access, perform a DoS attack, and, most importantly, track your online activity.

Your ISP knowing your internet activities via your IP can lead to bandwidth throttling, especially if you engage in data-hungry activities. Some providers don’t need a valid reason to slow down your internet speeds intentionally. In fact, many US ISPs are free to legally throttle your internet as they see fit since 2007.

ISP torrenting notice

Additionally, many netizens receive copyright infringement notices or cease warnings for visiting websites with dubious reputations. It usually concerns torrenting since this online activity is infamous for copyright infringement. Failure to stop partaking in P2P file-sharing can also land you in legal trouble.

Your browsing history indicating the websites you visited and the content you interacted with can also benefit law enforcement. For example, while your ISP can’t see what you’re doing on the dark web, it has logs you accessed it. And this data could be handed over to authorities for investigation.

ISP data logging research

Lasty, the ISP can profit from your browsing history logs. Many US ISPs are allowed to sell data about their users to third-parties. It is particularly useful to advertising companies that rely on user data to deliver targeted advertising.

As a result, many privacy-conscious users worry about a potential privacy breach on their end. No one should be privy to what you do online, including Internet Service Providers that can take advantage of such information. Fortunately, you can solve this problem using a secure VPN service.

Why do I need a VPN?

If you are worried about the amount of information your ISP knows about you through your browsing habits, you can protect your online privacy using a trusted VPN. When connected to a VPN server, this software masks your real IP address and encrypts your internet connection, making online activities invisible.

How does a VPN work?

When the VPN is turned on, the only thing your ISP can see is the new IP. It means that everything else – the websites you visit, the details of your downloads, how much bandwidth you’re consuming – cannot be tracked by the ISP anymore.

Furthermore, VPNs help battle censorship. Although ISPs offer access to the internet, some governments rely on them to block certain content. You can use a VPN service to bypass such restrictions by connecting to a country that isn’t internet-restrictive, letting you visit websites that are technically off limits.

Best VPNs to hide from your ISP

Due to the plethora of VPN providers, making the right choice can take time and effort for the average user. The fact that these services vary wildly in pricing, features, and quality doesn’t help matters.

Additionally, we must note that providers only working as browser extensions don’t guarantee complete internet connection security. VPN add-ons only encrypt browser traffic rather than device traffic, leaving some online activities vulnerable. Moreover, those services that hail from the Five Eyes alliance don’t necessarily guarantee total anonymity.

As such, we’ve narrowed the options to a few of the best VPNs you can find. These services offer excellent quality, affordable plans, and, most importantly, privacy from your ISP:

  1. NordVPN. An industry-leading audited VPN with top-notch security measures. Furthermore, it’s fast and affordable, has plenty of features for increased functionality, and hails from privacy-friendly Panama. We deem it the best choice to keep the prying eyes of your ISP as far away as possible.
  2. Surfshark VPN. Another great VPN for keeping your browsing history hidden. It’s feature-packed, speedy, and versatile, making it great for securing all web activities. Plus, it boasts an audited no-logs policy, proving its trustworthiness.
  3. Total VPN. With a strict no-logs policy and some of the best prices on the market, Total VPN is more than suitable for shielding yourself. We especially recommend it for those who need a simple service for regular browsing needs.
  4. Atlas VPN. It’s one of the cheapest VPN services that doesn’t neglect user privacy. Atlas VPN comes with all the essential security features, including a reactive kill switch. Moreover, it doesn’t slow down your internet, letting you enjoy seamless browsing, streaming, gaming, and even P2P file-sharing.
  5. ExpressVPN. It might not be the most affordable VPN, but it has commendable speeds and robust security. Besides solid protection, it boasts a court-proven no-logs policy and a data-respecting jurisdiction of the British Virgin Islands.

Bottom line

If you want access to the internet, ISPs are a necessity. But only a few people realize how much power Internet Service Providers have by controlling your bandwidth and being able to see what you do online. From deliberately limiting speed or blocking websites due to government requests, these services dictate what kind of web experience you have.

The most egregious fact is that ISPs are privacy-invasive due to their nature. However, it is possible to regain full control over your data by utilizing VPN software. Such services hide your IP address (and associated internet activity), encrypt your internet traffic, don’t keep logs of your personal data themselves, and come with measures to prevent accidental data leaks.

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You may also like to read:
What is a VPN
Are VPNs safe
How to set up a VPN
What is a VPN kill switch
What is AES encryption
Understanding Deep Packet Inspection (DPI)


FAQ

Why do I need an ISP?

An ISP lets you connect to the internet via a router or modem at your home. You wouldn’t be able to surf the web without the internet services offered by ISP companies. It’s their job to provide reliable connectivity for customers through advanced technologies, network infrastructure maintenance, network traffic flow control, etc.

How do I know what my ISP is?

To determine which ISP currently supplies your internet connection, perform an Ookla speed test. The name of your ISP should appear along with your download & upload speed results. Alternatively, you could simply look up your IP address – most online “What is my IP?” tools will also give you the name of your ISP.

Can my ISP see my internet?

Yes, Internet Service Providers can see everything you do online and log this information. Depending on the ISP and your country, they may store this data for up to 3 years. However, you can prevent your ISP from seeing your browsing history by hiding your IP address and encrypting your internet connection with a VPN.

What is the difference between IP and ISP?

An ISP is a company that provides customers with access to the internet. An IP address is a unique ID assigned to a device that lets it communicate over the web. Typically, ISPs assign their users IP addresses.

8 comments
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  1. Anonymous August 27, 2021 at 7:30 am

    If I keep my VPN on all the time. Will my ISP do something about it? Like calling me to turn it off or telling the Police or Government? I do a lot of torrenting of Anime!


    1. avatar
      Ethan Payne August 27, 2021 at 9:40 am

      Greetings, anonymous. No, your ISP can’t do anything about it since VPNs are perfectly legal in most parts of the world. Plus, you can say that you’re working from home and that a VPN is essential when working.


  2. Isaac H May 20, 2019 at 8:45 am

    I am always glad to visit your page. Do you know why? You’ve successfully raised my knowledge of IT. As a matter of fact, I have a better understanding of VPN and some software.
    Topics like what is an ISP has helped. Thank you so much


  3. bujoqueen April 29, 2019 at 3:48 am

    There are so many people who want to spy on us, smh. And it’s a shame cause it’s not like, scary shadow government types like in conspiracy theories. it’s just greedy companies that want your info so that they can sell more and more stuff to you. Absolutely despicable that any government allows an ISP to retain such info about their clients, let alone SELL it.


  4. Carrie P April 18, 2019 at 9:10 am

    That one was simple enough ! I feel that ISPs have to much power though. They’re not neutral and can limit your access, report you depending on what you do online… VPNs are such a must have nowadays.


  5. OakleyRobertson899 March 27, 2019 at 9:07 am

    ISP is simply what powers the internet connection. It also offers a variety of services like web hosting, telephone, dial up access, leased line access etc


  6. XavierX January 25, 2019 at 9:47 am

    ISP are an important part about online security, and I feel like not enough people talk about it. They have access to all our web browser history, if we don’t use a VPN or Tor. So we have to be careful.


    1. Cruz February 4, 2019 at 10:22 am

      I agree Xavier, I read most online security blogs and they only talk about big companies like Apple and Microsoft or the government spying on them. But nobody talks about Internet Service Providers.

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