Connecting to the Internet

Wondering how the Internet works? Get more information on how it works, as well as help connecting to the Internet.

How do I connect to the Internet?

Once you've set up your computer, you may want to purchase home Internet access so you can send and receive email, browse the Web, stream videos, and more. You may even want to set up a home wireless network, commonly known as Wi-Fi, so you can connect multiple devices to the Internet at the same time.

Watch the video below to learn about connecting to the Internet.

Types of Internet service

The type of Internet service you choose will largely depend on which Internet service providers (ISPs) serve your area, along with the types of service they offer. Here are some common types of Internet service.

Choosing an Internet service provider

Now that you know about the different types of Internet service, you can do some research to find out what ISPs are available in your area. If you're having trouble getting started, we recommend talking to friends, family members, and neighbors about the ISPs they use. This will usually give you a good idea of the types of Internet service available in your area.

Most ISPs offer several tiers of service with different Internet speeds, usually measured in Mbps (short for megabits per second). If you mainly want to use the Internet for email and social networking, a slower connection (around 2 to 5 Mbps) might be all you need. However, if you want to download music or stream videos, you'll want a faster connection (at least 5 Mbps or higher).

You'll also want to consider the cost of the service, including installation charges and monthly fees. Generally speaking, the faster the connection, the more expensive it will be per month.

Although dial-up has traditionally been the least expensive option, many ISPs have raised dial-up prices to be the same as broadband. This is intended to encourage people to switch to broadband. We do not recommend dial-up Internet unless it's your only option.

Hardware needed

Modem

a broadband modem

Once you have your computer, you really don't need much additional hardware to connect to the Internet. The primary piece of hardware you need is a modem.

The type of Internet access you choose will determine the type of modem you need. Dial-up access uses a telephone modem, DSL service uses a DSL modem, cable access uses a cable modem, and satellite service uses a satellite adapter. Your ISP may give you a modem—often for a fee—when you sign a contract, which helps ensure that you have the right type of modem. However, if you would prefer to shop for a better or less expensive modem, you can choose to buy one separately.

Router

a wireless router

A router is a hardware device that allows you to connect several computers and other devices to a single Internet connection, which is known as a home network. Many routers are wireless, which allows you to create a home wireless network, commonly known as a Wi-Fi network.

You don't necessarily need to buy a router to connect to the Internet. It's possible to connect your computer directly to your modem using an Ethernet cable. Also, many modems include a built-in router, so you have the option of creating a Wi-Fi network without buying extra hardware.

Setting up your Internet connection

Once you've chosen an ISP, most providers will send a technician to your house to turn on the connection. If not, you should be able to use the instructions provided by your ISP—or included with the modem—to set up your Internet connection.

After you have everything set up, you can open your web browser and begin using the Internet. If you have any problems with your Internet connection, you can call your ISP's technical support number.

Home networking

If you have multiple computers at home and want to use all of them to access the Internet, you may want to create a home network, also known as a Wi-Fi network. In a home network, all of your devices connect to your router, which is connected to the modem. This means everyone in your family can use the Internet at the same time.

Your ISP technician may be able to set up a home Wi-Fi network when installing your Internet service. If not, you can review our lesson on How to Set Up a Wi-Fi Network to learn more.

If you want to connect a computer that does not have built-in Wi-Fi connectivity, you can purchase a Wi-Fi adapter that plugs into your computer's USB port.