Where Do Internet Providers Get Their Internet From?

Where Do Internet Providers Get Their Internet From?

If you’re reading this article, then you’re using the services from an internet service provider commonly known as an ISP. But where do ISP’s get their internet from? Do they make internet? And can you make your own?

The following five explanations have been picked out from the web to answer the above questions clearly. The last one gets a bit technical and goes into detail.


I work for an ISP. The Internet is like a series of roads. Let’s say you built a road from your house to your friends. You and your friend could go real fast to each other’s houses.

Where Do Internet Providers Get Their Internet From?

But what if you wanted to go to some else’s house? Or the mall, or school? You would have to connect your road with your towns road. You would pay your town money to access their roads from yours, now you can go anywhere in town, and still have direct access to your friends through your road.

But now, your buddies neighbor wants to take your private road to get to his house instead of the main road, as a shot cut. So your neighbor pays you a monthly fee to get access to your road. Now, you are acting like the ISP.
Suddenly, you can’t travel as fast on your road now, there’s too much congestion! So, you have to build another road.


The Internet is the colloquial term for Interconnected Networks. Your ISP has an arrangement with one or more other companies, who in turn have agreements with yet more companies.

Some of these organisations spend lots of money to run physical cables across the planet in the expectation that their cables will be used to transport information between the two or more points that they connected together.

You can form an organization that connects to existing infrastructure and if you’d on-sell it, your organisation is an ISP. You could also set up actual infrastructure, but that’s much more costly and risky.

Different countries have rules about this mainly to do with illegal use that you’ll need to abide by and since this is big business, many roadblocks exist to prevent your little organisation from competing with the incumbent.
Some towns and cities, disenchanted with incumbent providers, have started their own networks and succeed in larger and smaller degree in providing their citizens with Internet connectivity. Various freenets also exist which allow information to travel within the group but not to the wider Internet. This often bypasses legal impediments to creating an ISP.

The Internet is a collection of networks and your can start your own any time; that’s how this thing actually works.


The internet is just a bunch of connections between computers. We could totally make our own and some people have tried. There was free software that would allow you to connect to your neighbor’s computer using just your wireless router. No internet needed.

The problem is they would have to run the software as well. And even if they did… is there anything worth downloading from your neighbor’s computer?

Maybe not. But what if they were also connected to three other people? Maybe those people have something cool to download…but probably not if they are just the people who live down the street.

Where Do Internet Providers Get Their Internet From?

Maybe one of them runs a website that has pictures of hotrod cars. That’s cool… but how would you know he has those pictures? Maybe one of the the other dudes runs software on his computer that scans all the connected computers to see what kind of stuff they have. It could list a short description of their stuff and then their IP address.

But how would you remember the IP address? Wouldn’t it be better if you could just type in something ike “Tom’s Computer”.

Then what if everyone wanted to look at his pictures at the same time? He might need to buy a better router to handle all the traffic.

The thing is all these problems are already solved by the current version of the internet. So most people don’t want to bother recreating what we already have.


I work for a backbone company. We own about 55% of the global fiber circuits. They connect to data centers and central offices all around the world. At those locations they get broken down to smaller links that go to businesses and residential areas. The reason most of these got created was because they “evolved” from simple telephone providers.

Where Do Internet Providers Get Their Internet From?

If you wanted to start your own ISP it would be really hard since the current companies have the network already covered. You would probably have to start in a place that has little to no internet coverage available. Even then, you would just get bought out by the larger companies. They do it all the time.


More than anything else, the Internet is an agreement. It’s an agreement by millions of different network operators of varying sizes, from massively enormous down to single people, to connect their networks to other networks, and to use the same set of standardized protocols throughout so that any end point—that is, any computer or smartphone or whatever—can get information to and from any other point with a reasonable expectation of success.

Some of those network operators—like AT&T, or Comcast, or Level 3, have massive networks with lots and lots of connected endpoints (that is, places where connections start and end—like you, when you want to pull up a web page on your phone or laptop). Others can be teeny tiny—like you and your LAN at your house. If you’ve got two computers on a LAN, you’ve got the same basic kind of network as AT&T runs. You’re using TCP/IP between your computers and you’re connected to an outside world. You don’t “access” the Internet—you are part of it. Your small network is part of the interconnected network that is the Internet.

The enormous network providers like Comcast and AT&T or Comcast and Level 3 or whomever and whomever connect their networks together through exchange points—these are datacenters in anonymous-looking buildings of varying sizes all over the world. There, various large network providers place huge switches (like big Cisco Nexus gear) with hundreds or thousands of gigabits per second of bandwidth and physically connect them to other large network providers’ switches. The idea is sort of the same as plugging your LAN switch into your router—just on a massively larger scale.

The various large network providers have what are called peering arrangements in place to control what they charge (or don’t charge) each other for when traffic crosses between networks. For example, AT&T might charge Level 3 a flat $0.05 per-terabyte rate for traffic bound from Level 3’s endpoints to AT&T’s endpoints. Or AT&T may let Level 3’s endpoints use AT&T’s network for free, in exchange for the same free use of Level 3’s network by AT&T’s end points.

The actual specifics of the peering arrangements in place between major network operators are complicated and are continually shifting. Large operators change their rates as traffic patterns change. (This is also why big streaming companies like Netflix and Google/Youtube work with various network operators to put caching servers inside the compnies’ networks—so that AT&T customers streaming Netflix don’t incur transit costs by accessing Netflix servers via Comcast’s network, for example.)

If you wanted to “make your own,” as OP’s question states, you need to buy transit off of another internet provider. This is essentially what you’re already doing if you pay for a personal or commercial internet account, or rent space in a colo facility—part of what you’re paying your internet service provider for is the ability to use their agreements to connect through their network to the Internet’s other networks.

You can’t really connect “directly” to “the internet” without going through another network because there is no singular thing to connect to. The internet is the collected connection of all networks. The closest thing there is to a “core” of the Internet is the collection of backbone networks that carry massive amounts of data to and from endpoints. But unlike in the 1970s or 1980s, you can’t really connect “directly to the backbone” anymore, because there isn’t a singular backbone anymore. The core itself is a huge collection of big centralized networks.

The shortest possible takeaway is that the Internet is the collection of all networks and your computer is already a part of it. Internet providers “get” their “internet” by connecting with other internet providers; the connection itself is the internet. It’s turtles all the way down to you and your laptop and smartphone.


You may also like...