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The History of Internet Providers


The year was 1989, when, after letting only government agencies and universities use the internet, the National Science Foundation opened it up to the public.


And then came what many call “the bad old days” of at-home internet access. In the early 1990s, the main way to get it was to connect your modem to your phone line. Most folks used AOL as their internet service provider (ISP) and endured its ear-piercing squeal while it was making the connection.

Meanwhile, you couldn’t make or receive phone calls, but you still marveled at the amazing new invention known as “the internet.”


As the ’90s progressed, so did the number of ISPs. They revolutionized communication and brought technology to the masses through competition and innovation.


Before AOL, though, The World was the first commercial ISP. The World did well in its first two years, but when the NSF lifted its ban, a new era of technology was born.


Early providers included CompuServe, The Source, and, of course, AOL. Everyone with nothing to compare it to was fine with the speed of a dial-up connection of 2,400 bits per second (a paltry .0024 Mbps).


Video games—such as Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario 64—text-based webpages, simple graphics and anonymous chat rooms swept the nation. They were primitive by today’s standards because no one what lay ahead.


A digital subscriber line—DSL—was the first form of faster internet services known as broadband. DSL carried the internet signal through existing phone lines at a much faster speed than dial-up.


The higher speeds of DSL spurred even more technological revolution in broadband services. Fierce competition arose between ISPs who sought to provide customers with the next best thing. In the next 20 years, commercial ISPs offered cable internet and fiber optic lines of communication.


Cable residential broadband was introduced in 1996. This service used existing cable TV infrastructure to transmit data at faster speeds than DSL. Fiber optic lines followed quickly on the heels of cable and achieved an even speedier rate of data transfer. The lines were made of flexible strands of glass, which allowed data to move at the speed of light but at a much higher cost.


But because DSL, cable and fiber optic lines required expensive infrastructure buildout, these services were usually limited to urban and suburban areas.


The arrival of the internet via satellite helped provide access to rural areas. A satellite sends and receives internet signals from space directly to an antenna dish on a home.


In 2005, WildBlue (the precursor to Exede, which later became Viasat Internet) was one of the first to offer satellite service.


Speed and data plans improved tremendously with the launch of the ViaSat-1 satellite in 2011 and the Exede service in 2012. Viasat’s satellites with a lot more capacity dramatically increased speed, quality and volume. In 2017, Viasat launched ViaSat-2, which was even more powerful.


Internet service providers have come a long way, and the use of satellites has been the most remarkable advance so far.

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