Internet access refers to the means by which users connect to the Internet.
Common methods of internet access include dial-up, landline (over coaxial cable, fiber optic or copper wires), T- lines, Wi-Fi, satellite and cell phones.
Dial-up connections are the most common type of internet connection available from ISPs and the slowest and (usually) the least expensive. A dial-up connection allows users to connect to the internet via a local server using a standard 56k modem, the PC literally dials (hence the name) a telephone number (provided by the Internet Service Provider) and connects to the server's modem and therefore the internet. Once connected users are free to search the web as they please, however, compared to modern speeds of broadband internet, dial-up is very slow and can only nominally transfer at 56 Kilobits per second.
Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Lines (ADSL) have become a widely available broadband internet connection, providing a variety of data rates. The connections work by splitting the function of a phone line into separate channels for voice telephone calls and for data (internet). Thus, a user can talk on the phone and be connected to the internet at the same time. ADSL connection services are sold with different speed specifications, below are some common configurations:
- 1 Mbit/s/256kbit/s
- 3 Mbit/s/768kbit/s
Cable Internet, the principal competitor to DSL, is offered at a range of prices and speeds overlapping that of DSL, but tends to concentrate more on the high end of the market.
Wi-Fi provides wireless access to computer networks, and therefore can do so to the Internet itself. Hotspots providing such access include Wi-Fi-cafes, where a would-be user needs to bring their own wireless-enabled devices such as a laptop or PDA. These services may be free to all, free to customers only, or fee-based. A hotspot need not be limited to a confined location. The whole campus or park, or even the entire city can be enabled. Grassroots efforts have led to wireless community networks.
Apart from Wi-Fi, there have been experiments with proprietary mobile wireless networks like Ricochet, various high-speed data services over cellular or mobile phone networks, and fixed wireless services. These services have not enjoyed widespread success due to their high cost of deployment, which is passed on to users in high usage fees. New wireless technologies such as WiMAX have the potential to alleviate these concerns and enable simple and cost effective deployment of metropolitan area networks covering large, urban areas. There is a growing trend towards wireless mesh networks, which offer a decentralized and redundant infrastructure and are often considered the future of the Internet.
Broadband access over power lines was approved in 2004 in the United States in the face of stiff resistance from the amateur radio community. The problem with modulating a carrier signal below 100 MHz onto power lines is that an above-ground power line can act as a giant antenna and jam long-distance radio frequencies used by amateurs, seafarers and others.
Besides accessing from residences, there are public places to use the Internet which would include libraries and Internet cafes, where computers with Internet connections are available. Some libraries provide stations that provide facilities for hooking up public-owned laptops to local area networks (LANs). There are also wireless Internet access points in many public places like airport halls, in some cases just for brief use while standing. These Access points may provide coin operated computers or Wi-Fi hot spots* that enable specially equipped laptops to pick up internet service signals. Various terms are used, such as "public Internet kiosk", "public access terminal", and "Web payphone". Many hotels now also have public terminals, though these are usually fee based.
The use of the Internet around the world has been growing rapidly over the last decade, although the growth rate seems to have slowed somewhat after 2000. With market saturation the phase of rapid growth is ending in industrialized countries, but the spread continues in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Middle East. For example, the PC Conectado program helped the industry to grow in Brazil.
Today, there is a big push by the United Nations to make internet access a human right. This push was made when it called for universal access to basic communication and information services at the UN Administrative Committee on Coordination. In 2003, during the World Summit on the Information Society, another claim for this was made.
In some countries such as Estonia , France and Greece, internet access has already been made a human right.