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ISP – internet service provider, a company that provides households and organizations with internet access through copper, fiber, or satellite communications. Put simply, your ISP is the company you pay a subscription fee to in order to use the internet.
You may have a computer with an inbuilt modem and a router for networking, but without an ISP you cannot have an internet connection. It’s essentially the link between your computer and all the other servers out there.
Once you connect your computer to the network with a modem or router, and you type the webpage you want to access, the modem sends your request to an ISP. It checks whether you have a static IP address.
If you do, your request is processed. However, If you do not have a static address, the ISP communicates with the DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) server and assigns your computer a dynamic IP address. Then your request is processed by your Internet Service Provider.
What does an ISP do?
ISPs offer a variety of services to their customers. Besides internet access, they sometimes provide web hosting services, allowing users to create and maintain personal web pages. These web hosting services include domain name registration and domain name hosting.
Other services, such as telephone, dial-up access, leased line access, and television services may be provided as well. The range of services offered is unique to each ISP. Many perform backups of email and web files, offer firewalls, etc.
Types of ISPs
Most Internet Service Providers offer different kinds of ISP connections based on the number of users and email addresses needed, connection speed or the amount of free web space. The types of ISPs include:
- Dial-up ISP
Dial-up is an internet connection that sends and receives data via a phone line by means of a modem. Although it is one of the slowest internet connections, some dial-up ISPs provide accelerators that use web page caching and content compression to increase the speed of the data transfer. If you have a phone line, you can generally find a dial-up ISP in your area. It is one of the cheapest ISP types. Obviously, with the advent of fiber-optics and other more advanced internet connection types, dial-up ISPs are well out of vogue.
- Cable ISP
A cable ISP offers internet access through a coax cable. This connection also requires a modem that usually can be rented from the Internet Service Provider or bought from a computer dealer. The advantage is that you can save money by bundling both internet and TV services together.
- DSL ISP
Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), comes through your phone line just like the dial-up. However, DSL uses electrical signals at frequencies humans cannot hear. Many phone companies offer DSL internet connections at discounted prices if you also use their phone services. The key difference between DSL and dial-up is that DSL internet connections are much faster and you cannot hear the data signal. Also, you can use your phone and the internet at the same time even with only one phone line.
- Wireless broadband
This is a type of broadband internet connection technology that provides high-speed wireless internet within a large area. These ISPs provide internet speeds that are close to or higher than the wired broadband speeds provided by cable and DSL ISPs. It is usually used in places where the wired broadband connection cannot be accessed (remote areas).
- Wifi access
Wifi is wireless internet access. Wifi is not as quick as DSL or Cable, but it’s a very convenient ISP service.
Satellite internet connection is accessible to individuals who are not able to receive DSL or Cable ISPs. Satellite connections have very fast download speeds, but their upload speeds are very slow. Satellite ISPs function in remote or rural areas where broadband connections are unavailable.
- Fiber optic broadband
This type of internet connection offers access to superfast broadband via individual fiber optic cables.
How do I know what my current ISP is?
To find out which Internet Service Provider currently supplies your internet connection, perform an ISP 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.
What can my ISP see?
Your Internet Service Provider knows your IP address and, hence, can follow all your online activities. This vulnerability has become a nagging issue because many governments have passed “data retention” laws, making Internet Service Providers keep track of their user base.
Your browsing history indicating the websites you visited and the content you interacted with can be very useful to intelligence agencies of law enforcement, but it can also be profitable. In some countries (such as the US), ISPs are allowed to sell data about their users to third-parties. This is particularly useful to advertising companies, for example, who rely on user data to deliver targeted advertising.
As a result of all this, many freedom-loving users are worried about a potential breach of their privacy.
Fortunately, you can get around this problem by using a 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 by using a good VPN. A VPN service helps mask your real IP address by allowing you to connect to the internet using the IP address given by a VPN server located anywhere in the world.
On the other end of the equation, there is the censorship issue: although ISPs offer access to the internet, some governments rely on them to block user access to certain content. You can use a VPN service or the Tor network to bypass such restrictions, and freely browse any site on the internet.
What does my ISP see when I use a VPN?
Your ISP can see the VPN through its IP address, as well as your data, but it’s encrypted to ensure privacy.
The ISP can also note the timing of your surfing session. It also records the amount of data sent and received so as to calculate the charges (if that’s the sort of pricing plan you’ve subscribed for).
Browsing under the shield of VPN also makes sure that your ISP cannot track the details of your downloads due to encryption. It also prevents them from identifying the websites you visit.
Hide from your ISP using these VPN services
Due to the plethora of options out there when it comes to VPN providers, making a choice can be a daunting task for the average user. Not helping matters is the fact that VPN services can vary wildly in price, features, and quality.
To enable you to make a good choice, we’ve narrowed down the options to a few of the best VPNs you can find. These services offer excellent combinations of quality and affordability.
ExpressVPN is undoubtedly one of the best VPN services you can find today. Though not cheap, it offers a complete package of robust security, fast speeds, and great performance.
NordVPN ticks all the right boxes including affordability – if you choose the right pricing plans. This industry-leading service will keep the prying eyes of your ISP as far away as possible.
Astrill VPN may not be the most affordable VPN service out there. However, insane speeds and solid security and privacy features make it an excellent option to consider – especially if you live in Asia.
If you need a secure, versatile, and customizable VPN service, TorGuard is for you. It is particularly great for torrenting.
With a strict no-logs policy, fast speeds, and some of the best prices on the market, Ivacy VPN certainly earns its place among the top VPN services out there.
The VPN services above are excellent tools that will enable you to hide your internet activity from your Internet Service Provider. These services are great for this purpose because they hide your IP addresses, offer strong encryption, and don’t keep logs of your personal data. Most of these VPNs also provide WebRTC, DNS, and IPv6 leak protection and offer a kill switch feature.
Julie is a firm believer in equal rights for everyone. She is a traveler and blogger, focusing her efforts on exposing censorship and discrimination around the world. She wants to hold corrupt governments and shady companies accountable by writing investigative articles and helpful guides.