We help IT Professionals succeed at work.

internet service provider

demoss asked
Medium Priority
Last Modified: 2010-04-12
What kind of hardware/software,telephone connection and what is the process to become a small internet service provider in a rural area?  Be specific on the options available and include an approximate cost of providing such a service.
Watch Question

You need a backbone-provider,
you need active ISDN-cards that connect your whenever its necessary
you either pay your backbone-provider for security-setup or you need a firewall-server (386 running LINUX will do)

You need a 486 or Pentium running LINUX equipped with a multi I/O-card for several modems (offer as many lines as are necessary for your customers).

If you grow bigger, a dial-up-backbone is not enough anymore and you need a leased line.

more details?

COMMENT, don not RATE, before you are completely satisfied.

a small ISP?  Are you a philanthropist?  What a monumental undertaking, I do wish you the best of luck...a mdoem pool I believe starts around $25K...take it from there.  tabit, if you have better #'s, let us know

david_r: remember that the whole administration of the swedish furniture-house IKEA is run on 486. If you pray to CISCO-Marketing-staff, you moght well pay US$ 100k for the same result



Thus far the submissions are dismal and if i were grading them out of charity they would receive an f.  The answers so far are little more than techno-babble, a pecularily male affliction (and not very good babble at that).  From my little understanding, I need a file server with modem banks connected to a leased (at minimum) partial t3(or better and more expensive t1) line running a unix (linux) operating system or (more expensive) windows nt connected to Sprint or UUnet or some other provider.  Hardware about 10 to 15k in cost and software expense running from shareware to 5 to 10k.  A dedicated phone line guestimate cost runs from 2 to 3k a month. I haven't asked them about the cost yet. Be specific, clear and leave the babble for the techno-droolers.      

I gave you a precise and concise answer, asking you to comment for details, by the way: a T3 is extrodinary more expensive than a T1, delivering 45Mbit/s instead of 1.54 Mbit for a T1.

your comment recieves an f-rating and for my part, concider this as: NO COMMENT

You are looking at a few thousands, depends what you really want to do. For example you need a Pentium 120 or up and 32 MB RAM (min), a few gig hard drawe, etc about 2-4 K's. Then you need some extra phone lines. It you are really small you just need another line or their are special pieces of hardware to handle many line a few thousnad. Then you need a connection to the internet whcih could be one of these disks that can give you about 200 Kbs whcihc could support 20 modems about. Then if you use Windows NT if comes with a web jpage server and ftp. Then you need shawreware or freeware for telnet access, mail server, news server. I think a T1 line or T3 will be too costly for a small ISP. Or you can even use a cable modem or ohter fast ways.

I would say around 5 - 10 thousand you could start one up.


What do you mean when you write "another line or their are special pieces of hardware to handle many line a few thousnad."? And what is "...one of these disks that could give you 200kbs whcihc could support 20 modems about."?  What specifically are you talking about?

What I'm looking for is, for example: you need an x server with y modem connections running this software, x mg memory and hard drive.  Bear in mind what I'm discussing is serving maybe only 20 to 100 users and then not all simultaneously.  A dedicated phone line of any type would be a distance of from 50 to 200 miles to the nearest connection (i. e. UUnet or Sprint.

I'm sorry you feel that way tabit.  

I have worked in the field, have graduate degrees, and programmed computers for more than thirty years.  My nearest internet connection requires a long distance (or 1-800) phone call that is prohibitively expensive.  Even the 800 numbers are 8 cents or so a minute.  There are no doubt many others in a similar situation that need the service.  That's why I've posed the question.

Well demoss, maybe in one of your undergrad classes you took something called Econ.  Ever here of economy of scale?  You were asked for more details and you respond with insults.  PSInet and UUNET are two of the larger line leasers, however, it seems from your question that you are not within local calling range of either of these two companies POPs.  Additionally, we have no clue as to where you are or how far you are away from any leasable POPs.  Exactly which part of tabit's answer was techno-babble...it seem that someone working in the computer field for the last 30 years wouldn't have any problem with the terms:  x86, I/O, Linux, Firewall, modem
Programming for more that thirty years (sure)?  So what was it like working on Eniac?  
Software: you can use Linux, FreeBSD, BSDI, or Solaris
on x86 based hardware.  You can use Solaris on Sparc.
Other operating systems will also work; I don't recommend them.
Some of the above come with all the software you need.
All of them have the basic networking and routing software.
Some, you'll also have to locate: POP server, SMTP server,
web server, and NNTP server, to support email, local web
pages, and USENET access.

Hardware: based on your software choice, costs will vary for
processor, memory, disk.  Sparc hardware generally costs
more than x86 based; it is also more reliable and easier
to configure.  Hardware in general has become cheap: memory,
disk, and processor are all commodities now, and connections
to the modems and to the Internet are almost as cheap.

Wires: fees for your access to the net vary with speed
(more costs more, naturally) and where you are (competitive
prices follow competition; since you're rural, alas, you'll
have fewer folks looking to sell you a feed).  However the
biggest fees are your dial-in lines, regardless.  You need
to maintain at least a 1:10 ratio of dial-in lines to customers
(AOL shows what happens with less than that).  Thus if you sign
up only 100 customers, you need 10 dial-in lines.  At only $12
per month per line, a fairly conservative figure which assumes
residential rates instead of business rates, you pay $120 a month
simply to let your customers connect to you.  Unlike your T1 fee,
which can be amortized across a bunch of customers, dial-in bills
cannot be amortized; your customers just start getting busy signals if you try.

People: who runs the system?  Fixes configuration problems?
Keeps news running?  Mail?  Does backups?  Sets up new customers?
Handles customer problems?  Diagnoses and fixes system problems?
Keeps tabs on your upstream news, mail, and IP service?  The
folks who know how to do all this cost money, more than all of
the above combined.  If you're involved in a noble cause, you
might be able to get free services from someone.  Otherwise,
be prepared to pay.  Failing all of the above, you can learn to
do it yourself (everyone started somewhere:-) but as with all
sweat equity, be realistic in budgeting your time for this:
hundreds of hours per year will be spent staring at screens.
Also include a budget for technical books, e.g. Nutshell Guides
are recommended, for all of the above.

I see comments on this question so far have concentrated on
box and component costs, T1 costs, and the ever-consuming
issue of too much or too little detail :-)  However, no one
has mentioned that a major cost, incoming lines, varies
directly as a function of how many customers you want
to support.  Thus although it would be nice to give you a
bottom-line figure ($2195 for you only -- if you act today! :-)
the fact is, the cost to get into the game is just the beginning.
The dollar figure that will let one or two people dial into you
over $1500/year short of your true costs for having just 100
customers: the incoming phone line costs.  I also see no mention
of system and customer support costs: this is your major cost,
and it too is hard to give a figure on without knowing how many
customers you want to be able to support.

An good reference for the process of setting yourself
up as an ISP is:


They don't cover cost, however.  For some hints on x86
hardware to run an ISP, a good reference is:


You can set up a couple of possible configurations based
on this, call your local x86 box seller, and add up what
they cost.  You'll find it an accurate number.  But remember
it covers only the server and connections, not the wires,
software, or people.  The BSDI software cost is given on:


Linux and FreeBSD are essentially free; however, see comment
above on support costs.

Given the complexity and "depends on what you get" and
"varies with number of customers you want to support",
you may be wondering, "hell, what does it take to get into
the game?  Support a few dial-in users at any level of service
at all?  What's the rock bottom price?"  Well, if you already
know how to do all this, and don't have to pay for systems
support therefore, and if you can find someone to sell you
an ordinary 56K modem connection to the Internet, which should
run about $70 a month, we can throw in three dial-in lines and
modems for about another $40 a month, for a total of about $1300
per year.  Your initial system will cost about $2000, rock
bottom, all components and software included.  Thus to do this
for a year will run a little over $3000.  That figure allows you
to sign up 20 to 30 customers, and provide 2 to 3 or them
at a time very slow access to the Internet.  That figure also
assumes a lot; it will not be possible in most cases; you won't
have the local expertise, you won'thave someone to sell you
a cheap 56K connection over an ordinary phone line, and so on.
So it's a nice rock-bottom figure but not a realistic one,
I'm afraid.

An alternative: find some local ISP who's already making a go
of it, and contract with him to provide the access.

Good luck!

Not the solution you were looking for? Getting a personalized solution is easy.

Ask the Experts


Very good answer from janfu, excellent adding additional sources for more information.  Thanks for the information, it at least gives me a place to start.

Access more of Experts Exchange with a free account
Thanks for using Experts Exchange.

Create a free account to continue.

Limited access with a free account allows you to:

  • View three pieces of content (articles, solutions, posts, and videos)
  • Ask the experts questions (counted toward content limit)
  • Customize your dashboard and profile

*This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.


Please enter a first name

Please enter a last name

8+ characters (letters, numbers, and a symbol)

By clicking, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.