ISP License in the USA?

Sean Donelan sean at
Tue May 31 18:54:30 UTC 2016

On Tue, 31 May 2016, Lorell Hathcock wrote:
> Our owner has hired a consultant who insists that we should have an ISP
> license to operate in the United States.  (Like they have in other countries
> like Germany and in Africa where he has extensive personal experience.)
> I am asking him to tell me which license we should have because I don't know
> of a license that we are required to have to route IP traffic to end
> customers.
> I am familiar with CLEC status filed with our state.  But it is not a
> requirement to pass traffic.
> He is suggesting COALS with which I am completely unfamiliar.
> Can anyone tell me if there is a Texas state and/or USA Federal license for
> a small operator to pass IP traffic from the internet to end users
> (commercial and/or residential).
> I am aware that there are some CALEA requirements of ISPs that seem to kick
> in once a CALEA request is made, but is that different from a license.

As always, you should consult with your company's attorney or legal 

ISP's do not have a seperate license in the USA (besides normal business 
and tax licenses).

COALS refers to cable operators and multichannel video programming 

CLEC refers to competitive local exchange carriers (i.e. telephone and
private line circuits).

Wireless ISPs may need a FCC radio frequency license for high power or 
exclusive use of radio frequencies.  Low-powered Wi-Fi doesn't need a

Generally you need some kind of permission or license to install 
facilities in a public right of way or exclusive use of public airwaves.

ISPs can lease those facilities from licensed operators, and don't need a 
license themselves. In practice, most cable operators and telephone 
companies are also "self-provisioned" ISPs. They have "license" from a 
state and/or FCC; but that's because they are cable or telephone 
companies installing telecommunication facilities in public rights of way, 
not because they are ISPs.

More information about the NANOG mailing list