What’s an ISP, and Why Do You Need One?

By Andy Rathbone

Everybody needs three things to connect with the Internet: a computer running Windows 8 or another operating system, web browser software, and an Internet service provider (ISP).

You already have the computer, be it a tablet, laptop, or desktop PC. And Windows 8 comes with a pair of web browsers. The Start screen’s Internet Explorer browser works for full-screen, quick information grabs; the desktop’s Internet Explorer browser offers more in-depth features.

That means most people need to find only an ISP. Although music wafts through the air to your car radio for free, you must pay an ISP for the privilege of surfing the web. When your computer connects to your ISP’s computers, Internet Explorer automatically finds the Internet, and you’re ready to surf the web.

Choosing an ISP is fairly easy because you’re often stuck with whichever ISPs serve your particular geographical area. Ask your friends and neighbors how they connect and whether they recommend their ISP. Call several ISPs serving your area for a rate quote and then compare rates. Most bill on a monthly basis, so if you’re not happy, you can always switch.

  • Although ISPs charge for Internet access, you don’t always have to pay. Some places share their Internet access for free, usually through a wireless connection. If your laptop or tablet includes wireless support, and most do, you can browse the Internet whenever you’re within range of a free wireless signal.

  • Although a few ISPs charge for each minute you’re connected, most charge from $30 to $100 a month for unlimited service. Make sure that you know your rate before hopping aboard or else you may be unpleasantly surprised at the month’s end.

  • ISPs let you connect to the Internet in a variety of ways. The slowest ISPs require a dialup modem and an ordinary phone line. Faster still are broadband connections: special DSL or ISDN lines provided by some phone companies, and the even faster cable modems, supplied by your cable television company. When shopping for broadband ISPs, your geographic location usually determines your options.

  • You need to pay an ISP for only one Internet connection. By setting up a network, you can share that single connection with any other computers, cellphones, TVs, and other Internet-aware gadgetry in your home or office.

For more information about Windows 8 and its features, explore Windows 8 For Dummies, available online.