Internet Service Provider (ISP)

What exactly does an internet service provider do?

An image representing the internet and the traffic it produces
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Your internet service provider (ISP) is the company you pay for access to the internet. No matter the kind of internet access — cable, DSL, or dial-up — an ISP provides you or your business a piece of a larger pipe to the internet.

All internet-connected devices run each request through their ISPs to access servers where they can view web pages and download files. The servers can only provide those files through their own ISPs.

Examples of some ISPs include AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, Cox, and NetZero, among many others. They may be wired directly to a home or business or beamed wirelessly via satellite or other technology.

What Does an ISP Do?

Just about everyone has some sort of device in a home or business that connects to the internet. It's through that device that phones, laptops, desktop computers, and other internet-capable devices reach the rest of the world — and it's all done through various ISPs.

Look at an example in which the internet service provider falls in the chain of events that lets you download files and open web pages from the internet.

Say you're using a laptop at home to access this page on Lifewire.com. Your web browser first uses the DNS servers that are set up on your device to translate the Lifewire.com domain name to the proper IP address that it's associated with, which is the address that Lifewire.com is set up to use with its own ISP.

The IP address you want to access is then sent from your router to your ISP, which forwards the request to the ISP that Lifewire.com uses.

At this point, Lifewire.com's ISP is able to send this https://www.lifewire.com/internet-service-provider-isp-2625924 file back to your own ISP, which forwards the data to your home router and on to your laptop.

All this is done quickly — usually in seconds, which is remarkable. None of it would be possible unless both your home network and Lifewire.com's network have a valid public IP address, which is assigned by an ISP.

The same concept applies to sending and downloading other files such as videos, images, and documents. Anything you download online is transferred through an ISP.

Is the ISP Experiencing Network Issues or Am I?

It's pointless to go through the troubleshooting steps to repair your network when your ISP, not your network, has a problem, but how do you know if it's your network or the internet service provider that's to blame?

The easiest thing to do when you can't open a website is to try a different one. If other websites work fine, neither your computer nor your ISP is having issues. Either the web server that's dishing out the website or the ISP that the website is using to deliver the website is the problem. There's nothing you can do but wait for them to resolve it.

If none of the websites you try are working, then try to open the website on a different computer or device in your network. If your desktop isn't displaying Google's website, try it on your laptop or phone (but make sure you're connected to Wi-Fi). If you can't replicate the problem on those devices, then the issue must lie with the desktop computer.

If the desktop is responsible for being unable to load any of the websites, restart the computer. If that doesn't fix it, you might need to change the DNS server settings.

However, if none of your devices can open the website, then you should restart your router or modem. This usually fixes networkwide problems. If the problem persists, contact your ISP. It's possible the ISP is having problems, or it disconnected your internet access for another reason.

If the ISP for your home network is down, disconnect the Wi-Fi on your phone and use your cellphone carrier's data plan. This switches your phone from using one ISP to using another, which is one way to get internet access when your home ISP is down.

How to Hide Internet Traffic From an ISP

Because an internet service provider provides the path for all your internet traffic, it's possible it could monitor or log your internet activity. If this is a concern for you, one popular way to avoid tracking is to use a virtual private network (VPN).

A VPN provides an encrypted tunnel from your device, through your ISP, to a different ISP, which effectively hides your traffic from your direct ISP. Instead, the VPN service you use can see all your traffic, which it doesn't usually monitor or log.

More Information on ISPs

An internet speed test shows you the speed you're currently getting from your ISP. If this speed differs from what you're paying for, contact your ISP and show it the results.

Who is my ISP? is a website that displays the internet service provider you're using.

Most ISPs give out always-changing, dynamic IP addresses to customers, but businesses that serve websites usually subscribe with a static IP address, which doesn't change.

Some specific types of ISPs include hosting ISPs, like ones that host email or online storage only and free or nonprofit ISPs (sometimes called free-nets) that provide free internet access usually accompanied by advertisements.