How to Start Your Own ISP DSL Business

By Keith Evans

Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) is a broadband Internet access service made popular for its ease of use, low cost and high speeds. Operating a DSL business as an Internet Service Provider (ISP) can be an enjoyable and rewarding endeavor, and you can start this business with just some equipment, an upstream provider, basic networking knowledge and a modest financial investment.

Things You'll Need

  • Computers and servers
  • Business plan
  • Business license
  • Server software
  • Start-up financing

Start Your Own DSL ISP

Step 1

Subscribe to commercial broadband service. Very few ISP businesses have a direct connection to an Internet backbone. Although some very large ISP businesses--like AOL and NetZero--do have such a connection, the vast majority of ISPs connect to the Internet through an upstream provider. Commercial grade high speed data services are available through telecommunications companies like EMBARQ and AT&T, and a sales person can advise you on the specific service you need. If your ISP will be small, you may be able to subscribe to an relatively inexpensive T1 or T3 line; larger operations will require high-bandwidth Gigabit Ethernet services to prevent overutilization of the services. In addition to commercial high speed data service, you will also want to purchase a block of IP addresses; your server software (see Step Three below) will assign a unique IP address to each of your user's sessions.

Step 2

Set up a data server. Depending on the size of your ISP operation, your server needs may range from a single, though robust, desktop computer to a bank of server racks designed to handle thousands of simultaneous connections. Regardless of the equipment you purchase to start your business, be sure it supports a network environment and features largest available quantities of hard drive space and random access memory (RAM). Set up your equipment paying careful attention to the manufacturer's set up instructions.

Step 3

Install ISP server software. As is true with the data server hardware, your software needs will depend on the size of your operation. For small operations, commercial applications like Windows Interactive Network Server (WINServer) or even freeware like Synchronet will allow users to connect to your server, provide basic authentication processes, and facilitate upstream Internet sessions. For very large ISP operations, however, you may need custom software to bind user sessions to the upstream provider, authenticate users (turning away unregistered or non-paying members), and provide other session services.

Step 4

Connect your server to the upstream provider. Once your commercial-grade high speed data connection has been installed, you must connect it to your servers. In most cases, this process is as simple as plugging an Ethernet cable into a provided jack or small electronic interface known as a "smartjack." If your upstream provider does not provide such a device, consult your sales representative for specific instructions on connecting your server to the high speed data service.

Step 5

Consider contracting with a local telephone service provider to offer your DSL service to customers. The hallmark of DSL service is that it does not require any additional wiring to be installed for the customer; instead, the service simply rides existing telephone line connections. Getting access to these lines in order to connect your potential customers to your DSL server can be a considerable challenge compounded by the fact that many telephone service providers also offer their own branded DSL service. With some business savvy and persistence, you may be able to strike a deal with the local telephone company that allows your DSL service to connect to users over their lines. If you are unable to reach such a deal, you may be forced to provide your own wiring connections directly to your customer; because this undertaking is a major commercial endeavor, it falls outside the scope of this article. Once your customers are connected to your servers, however, your DSL ISP business is in operation and ready to become a profitable endeavor.

Tips & Warnings

  • Many server software packages--like WINServer and Synchronet--also allow dial-up connections in addition to customer DSL sessions; this capability may allow you to use standard dial-up modems to offer additional access options.
  • Some jurisdictions may require you to procure a Value-Added Network Service (VANS) license before reselling Internet bandwidth. Consult your local licensing authority to see if a VANS license is required in your area.