ISP License in the USA?

Naslund, Steve SNaslund at
Tue May 31 19:58:12 UTC 2016

What you have been hearing so far is correct.  You do not need a license to be an ISP other than normal business licenses in your municipality/state.  The only thing I can think of would be if you were a voice carrier or wanted to become a CLEC which would give you better/cheaper access to local infrastructure via interconnection agreements (like local loops for DSL and duct/conduit access for building out your own fiber network).  I can tell you that the CLEC route is pretty expensive and has quite extensive regulatory hurdles at both the state and federal level.  If you are a pure data ISP (i.e. not originating voice services) running on leased access circuits there is not much more you should need to do.  Of course, you could and should ask this same question of your state's communications commission if you need a legally sound opinion on this.

Steven Naslund
Chicago IL

-----Original Message-----
From: NANOG [mailto:nanog-bounces at] On Behalf Of Sean Donelan
Sent: Tuesday, May 31, 2016 1:55 PM
To: Lorell Hathcock
Cc: 'NANOG list'
Subject: Re: ISP License in the USA?

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 advisor.

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 distributors.

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 license.

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.

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