Creating Your Own ISP

By Keith Evans

Creating an Internet Service Provider (ISP) business can be a fun challenge, a stimulating endeavor, and--if done properly--a profitable venture.


Internet Service Providers are, in a sense, purveyors of information. Each and every person who connects to the Internet must connect through some form of Internet Service Provider (abbreviated as ISP) who, in turn, connects to an upstream provider who, then, connects directly to the Internet backbone. Because the Internet has become so ubiquitous, and because ISPs are so universally necessary, starting an ISP can be a lucrative venture.


In order to start your own ISP, you will first need a path to the Internet. Most ISPs prohibit reselling of their services, and most end users do not have a direct connection to the Internet backbone. For this reason, almost all ISPs purchase wholesale, commercial grade high-speed data products from a large communications carrier like AT&T, EMBARQ, or Sprint. Depending on the size of ISP you want to establish, your wholesale data needs may range from a single T-1 (which would support about twelve simultaneous connections) all the way up to a Gigabit Ethernet connection (which would support thousands of simultaneous connections). Some extremely small ISPs actually purchase and successfully use a wholesale version of the Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) product, while the other end of the spectrum may have multiple Gigabit Ethernet access lines.


Once the wholesale data connection is purchased and in place, an ISP operator must have a way to provision, authenticate, and service end-user customers. Again, the software solution for this purpose depends largely on the size of the ISP being constructed: large ISPs who want to service thousands of customers often rely on proprietary or highly specialized UNIX-based administration programs. Smaller ISPs may be able to make use of some form of freely available host system software such as Falken BBS, Syncronet BBS, or Citadel online solutions. These applications provide an all-in-one solution for creating new customer accounts, authenticating customers, and binding their session to an Internet connection; they are also available in versions for computers running Microsoft Windows, Macintosh OS, or Linux/UNIX.


Once the wholesale data connection and back-end software are in place, some form of access for customers to connect to the system must be made available. Most smaller ISPs elect to make their services available to dial-up users; although this method provides slower connection speeds and requires an individual telephone line for each simultaneous connection, it is an inexpensive and relatively simple way to start an ISP. Many of the software packages referenced in Section 3 above, in fact, include built-in support for handling dial-up customers. A more cutting-edge offering may be to provide wireless access services; although they are still somewhat new in the market, wireless access is widely considered to be the promised method of access in the future. For smaller ISPs, several wireless access points stationed strategically around a neighborhood should provide the necessary interfaces with the backend session software referenced above. Larger scale deployments may require consiberably more difficulty up to licensing of airwaves with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).


Once the infrastructure, back end systems, and wholesale data connection are established and ready for customers, the real work is only just beginning. In order to remain efficient and competitive, ISPs must offer a reliable service at a fair price, all while providing exemplary customer service. In addition, various legalities specific to the municipality where the ISP is operating must be met (including, but not limited to, business licensing and tax collection). Finally, even the greatest business in an area with the greatest need must have a dedicated and committed marketing team in order to recruit customers. Once the customers are recruited and the back office paperwork is in order, an ISP business may just be the entrepreneurial endeavor of your dreams!