An access provider is any organization that arranges for an individual or an organization to have access to the Internet. Access providers are generally divided into two classes: Internet access providers (ISPs) and online service providers (OSPs). ISPs can be local businesses that pay for a high-speed connection to one of the companies (such as AT&T, Sprint, or MCI in the U.S.) that are part of the Internet. They can also be national or international companies that have their own networks (such as AT&T's WorldNet or IBM's Global Services). OSPs, sometimes just called "online services," also have their own networks but provide additional information services not available to non-subscribers. America Online is the most successful example of an OSP.
A typical charge from an access provider for an individual account is $10 - 30 U.S. a month, depending on the amount of usage you contract for. Hours of use beyond the arranged number are billed as an extra charge at an hourly rate. Both national and local access providers compete for business in national and local publications.
Microsoft's Windows systems offer personal computer users access to the Microsoft Internet service as well as to America Online, IBM, and several other services.
An access provider may have its own point-of-presence (POP) on the Internet, or it may be a company that has a telecommunication connection to someone else with a POP.
An access provider is not the same as a "space provider" (virtual host), a company that provides space and management for individual or business Web sites. However, some access providers do provide a certain amount of space for a Web site as part of their service.