Information about starting and operating an ISP or corporate Intranet using Linux servers.

Starting an ISP

The purpose of this How-To is to give guidance for starting an ISP business. This is not professional advice; the writer has not been hired to analyse your specific situation. Rather, these are some thoughts gathered from my experience of starting an ISP in a rural town in the USA in the late 1990s that may be useful to others.

Virtual ISP (VISP)
Why GNU/Linux?
The Telco and the Backbone
Remote Access
Servers and Other Equipment
Your ISP's Home Page (Portal)
Frequently Asked Questions

Technical summary of an ISP

This portion of the guide is a summary or overview of the technical topics and equipment involved in running an ISP business for people who are unfamiliar with, but want to know a little bit about, the technical aspects of this business. You will not find in-depth information here, but a superficial summary of topics that is intended to convey a basic understanding of “how it all fits together” (so to speak) rather than in-depth operational knowledge.

In the 1990s the majority of ISPs were hobbyists and techno-geeks (yours truly included). There was much less money to be made then, and it was not until the business community started getting involved and demanding that the Internet become more “user friendly” that things really took off.

As everyone knows, today's Internet service business scene is no longer dominated by the home-town ISPs that were common a decade ago. Most of them were bought, went bust, or have grown into big businesses. Even so, there are still some markets (e.g., rural Canada and Africa) which are not yet saturated with providers, and of course there is always a clever new idea waiting to be dreamt up by somebody.

Technical Steps to Starting

The technical steps to starting an ISP business are:

  1. Connect two or more computers together in a network.
  2. Install the software needed to provide the Internet services you wish to provide.
  3. Establish a method of billing and collecting revenue (anything from manually typing bills to an automated credit card billing software package).
  4. Connect your server network to the Internet and to your subscribers.

Financial Steps to Starting

  1. Secure funding for the project
  2. Purchase the equipment needed
  3. Contract for a backbone (Internet) connection
  4. Contract for telephone services if providing dial-up service
  5. Contract for tower (or other distribution point) rental if providing wireless service
  6. Install, configure, and test all equipment
  7. Market and manage your ISP

Securing Funding

Raising capital will normally require a business plan, some experience to back your plan (either your own experience of that of others in your group), and an investment of your own. You could, of course, also refinance your house or use lines of credit to get the operation started as long as the interest rate is reasonable.

Both Canada and the USA have initiatives to bring broadband Internet to rural communities. News from Steven Harper on 30 July 2009 for Canadians can be found here. Citizens of the USA can find similar information here.

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