You know when you awake with a fully formed thought that is slightly detached from reality? A piece of gibbering nonsense left over from the dream world that stays with you during your morning ablutions. Sometimes it could be the hauntings of a nightmare translating the stresses and strains of waking life into a surreal fantasy. Other times it could be the fantasies of sexual relations with unattainable figures – pop stars, or... aliens? Whatever thoughts you experience I'm sure you know what I mean, however presumptuous that might be.
I awoke obviously slightly puzzled; quizzical expression on my brow and everything. The question on my mind was "What are ISPs (Internet Service Providers) for? I mean, what do they actually do? And is this a stupid question?" So the stupid answer is "They Provide a Service called the Internet, duh, the answer is in the question". Well actually, no it isn't. Say I want to connect my computer to a digital camera. All I need to accomplish this is a USB cable (and perhaps a very basic driver). I don't need a USB cable and a DCSP (Digital Camera Service Provider). The physical connection is enough.
Why then does connecting one's computer up to the internet require more than just a lead? Why have BT, Virgin Media or whoever elected themselves gatekeeper to this thing, the internet, which is after all just a load of computers connected to one another? Why have we allowed this? I genuinely (as I write this, at 0730hrs, yet to awake fully) don't get what they are providing. It's like a protection racket – pay up or we'll cut you off.
Electricity, gas, and water providers offer a service worth paying for, because the providers have to find the gas, generate the electricity and clean and store the water. In some countries (including here in the UK) you have to pay for a TV license. This is used to fund the BBC to help them make the programmes ("generate the content", urgh, ugly phrase). Other channels, here and elsewhere, receive their funding through advertising. ISPs do not generate the internet's content, and nor is the internet noticeably lacking in advertising.
Yes, there are underground cables and junction boxes to maintain; but how long before the internet is accessed completely wirelessly, like radio has been since the beginning of recorded history? And then how will ISPs justify their continued existence?