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Access at All Costs

--by David Gulbransen and Stephen G. Volan

For most of its existence, the Internet has been considered a free resource by its users. People got used to the idea that they could log on anytime they wanted and draw from resources on the Net at will. The costs of operating computers on the Internet may have been invisible to most users, but the Internet has never been free.

In its early days (see note), the Internet was paid for by the National Science Foundation (NSF). When the NSF withdrew its funding, the Internet was paid for by the universities and research facilities whose students and researchers used it. Now that you can access the Internet without being affiliated with some university or Department of Defense project, you are expected to help pay for using it as well.

Note: Some might quibble with the Internet's NSF origins, but it all depends on how far back you want to go. Yes, the original "net" was a Department of Defense Advavanced Research Project Agency venture, but the TCP/IP internetwork that really blossomed into what we know as the Internet consists mostly of what was the NSF backbone.

There are still free ways to gain access to the Internet, but they're not without their problems. Free access isn't always reliable. Some methods of free access are not particularly ethical. You can try to rely on free access to the Internet, but if you want a dedicated connection, through which you can reliably receive e-mail or obtain information, paying for the service is the best way to ensure your connection will be there when you need it.

In this chapter, we discuss the many types of services that provide full or partial Internet access. To understand the differences between services, keep in mind that it's easy to confuse a method of communication with the service that employs that method to communicate. Various online services use one or more protocols (methods) for exchanging data. All these protocols and services have an exasperating tendency to use the word net in their names, rendering them even less distinguishable. Pay close attention.

Method #1: BBS Access

Bulletin board systems have become an established, entry-level way for home computer enthusiasts to communicate with each other and exchange information on a local level. A bulletin board system, often referred to by the initials BBS, is often run by computer hobbyists because they enjoy discussing their areas of interest with other computer users. Most BBSs don't make a profit; in fact, most are paid for out of the pocket of the system operator. However, as the home computer market has expanded, and more and more people have jumped on the e-mail/Internet bandwagon, sysops have discovered that their BBSs don't have to be so limited.

Almost all BBSs have some sort of internal method for sending e-mail among its own users. Depending on which software a bulletin board is using for its interface, you may also be able to send e-mail messages to users at other BBSs in the area. With the popularity and growth of BBSs in the mid-to-late eighties, it was inevitable that some standards of communication between BBS systems would emerge. The most well-known protocol used by BBSs is FidoNet.

FidoNet software runs on DOS machines, which makes it popular in remote areas of the world as well as in North America. Each BBS operator using FidoNet exchanges mail with other BBSs in the middle of the night, during a period called "National Mail Hour." Each sysop is free to operate their FidoNet BBS as they see fit, as long as they adhere to a few rules, one of which is that they not refuse to pass on FidoNet mail.

Someone out there with a FidoNet BBS linked it to an Internet machine and thereby created a gateway to the Internet, making it possible to send mail between the two networks. Depending on the services and fees of the BBS, and the whim of the sysop, you might be able to send and receive e-mail for a pittance or no charge at all.

You should be aware that using a FidoNet site to mail to the Internet has its drawbacks. First, FidoNet sites don't allow large volumes of traffic, and they monitor incoming traffic, both to prevent users from posting mass mailings to the Internet or from subscribing to Internet mailing lists. Both privileges would generate quite a burden on the FidoNet system, more than most sysops care to incur. Furthermore, mail can take a while to reach its destination. FidoNet sites usually exchange batches of data once a day; some FidoNet boards also pool their mail, to retrieve it in very large batch files. Your mail might take anywhere from one day to two weeks to deliver, depending on how far it's going. BBS mail might not save you time or convenience.

Many BBSs are beginning to connect to the Internet directly. These boards often obtain their connections from a larger organization via the UNIX-to-UNIX Copy Program (UUCP) protocol. Though the name implies a BBS using UUCP runs UNIX, this isn't always the case. However, UUCP connections usually offer other Internet services as well, because more than just mail can be exchanged using UUCP. For example, Usenet (home of the Internet's famed discussion and newsgroups) originated as a UUCP connection between two universities. A number of BBS operators have picked up Usenet newsgroups from larger organizations with a fuller Internet feed. Ask the sysops of your nearest BBSs if they carry newsgroups.

How do you go about finding a good local BBS? The best way is to talk to other computer enthusiasts in your area. Local computer dealers or computer special-interest groups are two helpful resources for finding your first few boards. Another resource for BBS lists is the magazine, Computer Shopper, which publishes a list of BBSs each month in order by state and area code. (The list is so big now that they split it and run half every other month.) When you find your first BBSs and begin talking with other users and sysops, you'll find that word-of-mouth is the best resource for finding new BBSs—after all, who better to fill you in on the latest developments than the people who run and use them?


This idea is not complex: a FreeNet provides, as a public service to its users, free access to e-mail and, in some places, to Internet connectivity. It is important to remember, however, that FreeNets were not born to provide Internet access. FreeNets are primarily BBSs that exist to encourage community discourse. Today, over 30 US cities have FreeNets, there is a significant number of FreeNets in Canada, and many others are cropping up all over the world.

Here's a listing of some of the more established FreeNets:








AzTeC Computing



Baton Rouge FreeNet

Baton Rouge


Charlotte's Web


N. Carolina

Cleveland FreeNet







Detroit FreeNet



Heartland FreeNet



(309) 674-1100

Houston FreeNet



KC FreeNet

Kansas City


LA FreeNet

Los Angeles


Maine FreeNet






Mobile FreeNet



New Orleans FreeNet

New Orleans


North Texas FreeNet



Pittsburgh FreeNet



Philadelphia FreeNet



Richmond FreeNet



Santa Fe Meta Verse

Santa Fe

New Mexico

Twin Cities FreeNet



404 FreeNet



This list isn't meant to be comprehensive by any means, so if you don't see your city listed here, don't give up hope. For a complete and up-to-date list of FreeNets, you can obtain one via FTP at:

(login: anonymous)

(password: your_email_address)

Path: /pub/nptn/

File: nptn.affil-organ.list

The concept of the FreeNet was born in Cleveland in 1986. The Cleveland FreeNet, sponsored by Case Western Reserve University, was the effort of Dr. Thomas Grundner (, also the founder of the National Public Telecomputing Network. The NPTN (also in Cleveland) exists to help aid FreeNet projects and public telecomputing in general. Their FTP site contains many documents which might be helpful if you were interested in trying to start a FreeNet in your own area.

FreeNet access is not necessarily a bargain. The first risk of FreeNets is being involved with municipal governments and worrying about the legalities of free speech. Users of the Internet transmit a lot of information that might be offensive to some community groups or individuals. If, however, administrators start to censor what comes through their sites, they risk the chance of losing their right to claim common carrier status. They would then become responsible for all the information that might come through their sites. You should be prepared for many legal grey areas when operating any sort of BBS.

The other problem with FreeNets is the limitation of resources. A good ratio of users to phone lines is about 15:1, at which users are assured of obtaining access without delays that are too long, or without being forced to log on at inconvenient times such as the middle of the night. The problem with providing such a low user/modem ratio in large areas is cost. Because the very idea of a FreeNet is not to charge for services, expenses for phone lines, modems, and so forth are usually on a tight budget set by the municipal government. Therefore, FreeNets often have problems with too many users wanting to use the system.

The solution to this problem is to make the board very attractive to community users, and not Internet citizens. Most FreeNets have many local discussion groups but limit the amount of actual Internet access. For example, some FreeNets will allow you to read Usenet newsgroups, but not to post to them. Most all will allow Internet e-mail, but they frown on mailing lists. Virtually no FreeNet allows telnet access to other sites, or access to interactive services, such as Internet Relay Chat (IRC). Some even put restrictions on file transfers (FTP).

When you are considering FreeNet access, you should keep these types of restrictions in mind. The local discussion groups and the limited access most FreeNets provide might be enough to satisfy your communication needs; but, then again, they might not.

Some FreeNets will provide access to people who can telnet into their BBS. Because FreeNets are generally funded by the local community, you will find that local residents take priority. If a FreeNet does offer remote access, you are still faced with the problem of paying long-distance rates to dial in, or finding telnet access from somewhere locally—which defeats the purpose of looking far away for an account. On top of that, you are still going to have to pay for your nonlocal access. The charges average between $10-15 a month for nonlocal access, so unless your municipality has a FreeNet, don't expect it to be free for you.

If a FreeNet does exist in your area, chances are very good that they will have some tie to the library system. Local BBSs are also a good source of information about services like FreeNets. If there is no FreeNet in your area, starting your own is one way to get access to the Internet, but it's also a lot of work. Raising funds, obtaining the equipment, and finding volunteers to help run the FreeNet might take up more time than you'd like to give up.

Online Service Providers

Online service providers are like giant BBSs, only the proprietors are large corporations, not basement hobbyists. You log into their private network of machines and then have access to databases, mail, and discussion groups that they own, maintain, or vend (many providers act as a vendor for the databases of other companies).

Online services have traditionally been closed systems. If you had an account on CompuServe, for example, you could only communicate with other users on CompuServe, and the discussion groups were also limited to other CompuServe subscribers. Additional resources would only become available if the service provider willed it so. In the wake of the loosening of regulations against commercial traffic on the Internet, users are clamoring for access to everyone else in the world, so the large online service providers are adding Internet services to their lists of features.

Internet access is still additional, however. Most services usually start an extra meter running when you use their Internet features. Additionally, because the Internet is not the primary function of these services, chances are you won't be getting full Internet access. For example, most of the online services maintain deposits of shareware and other programs that users must pay to download. Because the major online services can't make a profit if users can get the same shareware for free somewhere else, most online services restrict access to standard Internet features such as FTP. Experienced users will find the resources of the Internet itself much more extensive—and probably much cheaper.

Hidden charges are also a problem with online services. Sure, they might provide Internet mail, but some services charge per message, some charge per character. The time of day you call might also result in an additional charge; usually a premium rate is charged during business hours. You should be sure to carefully read all the agreements that scroll by your screen the first time you dial in to an online service. The advertisements that they place in magazines won't mention all these surcharges, but the usage agreements will have to.

Online services are suffering from growing pains as well. The number of users flocking to the better services is increasing quite rapidly, and how that affects your usage depends on how well the company manages growth. The classic example of this pitfall is America Online, which became so popular that one day in 1994 its phone systems were unable to handle the crush of users vying for logon access, and the service ground to a halt for hours.

The good thing about all the interest in online services is that competition has created a way for you to try systems before you commit to using them. One way to maintain free access for quite some time is to switch from company to company, using the trial periods and never paying for service. Obviously, it makes e-mail correspondence unreliable. Many of the online services will also assume that you want to sign up as a customer unless you cancel. If you do take advantage of the trial periods, make sure to cancel your account before they bill you.

Nearly all online services require you to use special software to access their systems. Most have developed graphical user interfaces (GUIs) of some sort, designed to make it easier for you to find resources on their systems. How helpful these systems are varies: some are organized quite well, others are a lot of flash. Many of the services provide you with this software free because it only works with their service.

The following sections provide a breakdown of some of the more popular services, and what they have to offer.

MCI Mail (1-800-444-6245)

MCI Mail is just what it says—mail, and nothing else. If you need e-mail access, it might be for you, but it's costly: $35 a year, plus $0.50 for the first 500 characters, $0.10 for the next 1000, up to 10,000.

GEnie (1-800-638-9636)

GEnie, a subsidiary of General Electric, has a reputation for very slow e-mail (sometimes up to several weeks for delivery), and many surcharges. The basic rate is $8.95/month for 4 hours of access time. After that, you pay up to $9.50/hour for daytime access. GEnie's local services are also limited, so if you don't live in an area they cover, you'll pay a connection charge plus long distance for 2400-bps service.

Prodigy (1-800-776-3449)

Prodigy, the child of IBM and Sears, is the most commercial of the commercial services. Prodigy displays advertisements along the bottom of every new screenful of information. Most of its Internet services, including e-mail, have additional fees (for example, $17.95 for 100 messages a month), and using the e-mail gateway is quite a challenge. The base rates are $7.95/month for 2 hours of access time, or $14.95/month for unlimited access.

CompuServe (1-800-848-8990)

Because CompuServe has been around the longest, it has very extensive services and more than 2 million users. Many computer and software vendors have forums on CompuServe, and many sell products via CompuServe. It also has some of the most extensive discussion groups of any online service. The GUIs are well designed. The pitfall of CompuServe is its cost—most of the neat features cost you extra (for example, 60 free Internet messages, $0.15 each afterwards). CompuServe has a startup fee of $39.95 (although $25 is credited to extended services) and an $8.95/month access fee.

America Online (Info: 1-800-227-6364)

America Online (AOL) has had some trouble with managed growth, but the popularity of this service should speak well of what it has to offer. AOL has some extensive resources as well, a large number of discussion groups, as well as Internet e-mail and Usenet newsgroups. The user interface is nicely designed and easy to use, although it is a bit slow for experienced users. The major advantage for AOL is cost. There are no hidden charges on AOL; all the services are included in your monthly fee. When you weigh the GUI against this, some waiting might not be so bad. AOL charges $9.95/month for 5 hours of access time, $3.50 for each additional hour.

Note: Because of what we have called "trouble with managed growth" (and what others might call "flooding the Net with newbies"), AOL has a bad reputation on the Internet. A posting on a Newsgroup by an AOL user is likely to be ignored or—more likely—made fun of. Few people on the Net take AOL seriously, but when you look at online service providers, AOL does have a Net presence. It's only a matter of time before new users from other providers arrive, and then the focus of insults will be shifted to them.

Internet Service Providers

The other category of commercial online service providers are set up specifically to give you access to the Internet, rather than restrict you to full access only to their userbases. ISPs function similarly to the online services just described, in that you can connect to them through a local dial-in number. Instead of providing content (large databases, discussion groups, and the like), however, the ISPs provide you with an account on a machine running UNIX or some other multiple-user operating system. They generally make a number of programs available to help you process your e-mail or browse newsgroups. Other than that, the ISPs basically leave you on your own to explore the Internet, with few restrictions and little guidance.

The popularity of the Internet has launched many ISPs, some of which provide national access, others that operate regionally or locally. The types of accounts that ISPs provide make quite a difference to you depending on your experience. A sophisticated user might expect the flexibility of a full UNIX shell account, but a novice might find it confusing. If you aren't comfortable with UNIX or VMS (the operating system on DEC VAXes) you should make sure the ISP offers some sort of menu system to enable you to run the programs you want. When you are dealing with this type of unbridled Net access, customer support also becomes an issue. What kind of support is standard might be a big factor in choosing your ISP.

There are two principal national ISPs, Delphi and Netcom. A local ISP, however, might give you many advantages, including lower cost and better technical support. To find a local ISP near you, contact the Network Information Center, usually called InterNIC. You should be aware that the popularity of the Internet has slowed the response time at InterNIC considerably, so expect to wait a long while for information. You can phone InterNIC at 1-619-455-4600 or send e-mail to:

Some ISPs also talk about membership in the Commercial Internet eXchange (CIX). When the Internet was funded by the NSF, and commercial network traffic was prohibited, CIX was formed to enable businesses a means of obtaining Internet access. Now that the Internet has been all-but-deregulated, CIX membership doesn't really mean much of anything other than membership in an organization of commercial providers. Most local ISPs will not be CIX members, due to the organization's fee requirements. CIX has recently announced that they are going to refuse Internet traffic on their routers from non-CIX members. This might cause delays or bounced mail from ISPs who are not CIX members. If you are going with any of the larger national or regional ISPs that shouldn't affect your service, but it never hurts to check.

Here are descriptions of a few of the larger Internet service providers, to give you an idea of the services they offer. Remember, this is not in any way comprehensive; there are hundreds of others, so shop around.

Delphi (1-800-695-4005)

Delphi is a VAX Cluster in Boston. Unless you live in Boston, you have to log into Delphi via SprintLink or Tymnet. Provided they have a local number in your location, and you call between 6pm and 6am, connection is free. Call between 6am and 6pm and you will pay a $9.00/hr. connect-time charge. Delphi also has a $19 startup fee and several plans for service, the most attractive being the 20/20 plan: $20.00 for 20 hours a month. You should think carefully about the plan you choose, though; Delphi charges another fee if you switch plans.

Delphi's interface is also clumsy and provides no command line. You are limited to the menu choices that Delphi provides, which can easily get to be a dozen levels deep.

Netcom (1-800-501-8649)

Netcom operates on many Sun Workstations located around the country. That gives them more local dial-in numbers. If there isn't a Netcom number near you, then use SprintNet and Tymnet, with the same charges mentioned previously. Netcom's system gives you access to a UNIX shell. If you aren't comfortable with UNIX, Netcom has a menu system and many online help files. Don't rely too heavily on Netcom phone support, though; they have a lot of trouble returning phone calls due to their extraordinary growth. Netcom charges a $20 startup fee, and a fixed rate of $19.50 a month, or $17.50 if your account is auto-billed.

Performance Systems International (1-800-82-PSI-82)

PSI has been in the Internet business a long time. The company was formed to provide Internet connections to defense contractors and research institutions, which were originally the only users of the Internet. That translates into incredibly reliable service. They offer InterRamp, which allows individuals access to the Internet for a $29 startup fee and $29/month—but you must pay for three months in advance, and they strongly encourage you to pay $84 for the third-party interface software they recommend, bringing your grand startup total to a steep $200.

The most significant advantage that most ISPs—particularly the smaller, locally based ones—can provide is a flat-rate fee structure. Instead of charging you a fee for each hour of connect time, many ISPs are offering service for a single monthly fee, much like basic cable television or local telephone service. The companies that charge for every file you download (notably online providers, such as CompuServe) have done so for some time because they started when the only networks were private and proprietary.

Two factors allow general online providers to keep metering your usage. The first is owning their own national network of local dial-up numbers and can charge whatever they like for access. (Netcom, for one, is making local points of presence available around the country, but charging a flat rate, which sets the tone for future competition on that aspect of Internet service.)

The second factor is possessing a critical mass of offerings, regardless of how much it costs to provide the offerings. Shareware is shareware, and you shouldn't have to pay to download it. But if an Internet site offers free access to its archives and is so overwhelmed by seekers of free software or data that you can't get through, where do you turn? Furthermore, some individuals and companies will always have valid reasons not to offer their intellectual property for free to anyone, and so will turn to companies that can guarantee them compensation for their work.

With the advent of the Internet, the ultimate public network, the measured-service pricing strategy of private-network service providers is going the way of the dinosaur and the full-service gas station. Your best deal is to find an Internet service provider who will charge you as little as possible for the time you stay connected.

Access Through Higher Education

Mitchell Porter

--by Tod Foley

"06-11-92 7.30 p.m., qut link lab.

"today i was busted at the commerce labs, sort of. a middle-aged guy—probably a lecturer—stuck his head in the room and said which subject are you doing? i said nothing at the moment, he asked which course am i enrolled in? i said science, something about the labs at the computer science dept were. . . he started to suggest that i should leave when i suggested it myself and did so.

"i could probably creep back in late at night or something but it wouldnt be the same. so tomorrow morning i shall head for griffith, but really it looks as if my current phase of intense net activity is over. it's strange and unpleasant, but e.g. on the way here i found myself composing farewells etc., and thinking how such a 'spectacular' departure (forced off the net! etc. etc.) would probably positively affect my rep as a net-personality. . ."

—from the net.diaries of Mitchell Porter

Hyperattentive Net surfer, founder of the Aleph e-mail list and researcher/compiler of the widely-circulated and regularly-updated High Weirdness By Email, Mitchell Porter has been described as "Australia's most dedicated net.activist." His unique and prolific diaries, systematic outpourings, and epic works-in-progress can be found stashed in directories all over the world, and his roving eyes are constantly on the watch for related threads throughout the Usenet and Elist universes. So important are his online activities to him that he has, upon occasion, resorted to some extreme means—from personal divestment to begging, borrowing, and stealing terminal time—to stay in touch with the Net.

TF: There have been a number of times in the past when you mentioned the degrees you'd gone to just to get access—at one time you sold most of your possessions, at others you have taken long bus rides to get to a terminal; in one piece I remember quite well you even questioned the morality and ethics of your presence at the terminal you were writing from (based upon the fact that an actual student might otherwise have been using that machine).

MP: In fact, I sold the only possessions I had that I could sell (my books) in order to finance those long bus rides, which I was taking daily. At the time processes were unfolding (on the Aleph Elist) that I felt I had to be a part of, and a campus twenty kilometers away was my only point of access to the Net. I suppose that when I wrote the comment you remember, it was close to the end of semester and the lab was full, and so my presence might have prevented someone from finishing an assignment.

TF: What do you think now of these acts?

MP: A number of times I've struggled desperately to be online for reasons that proved fruitless: in July 1993, when I thought that some Grand Synthesis or Theory of Everything might come of the struggle, and later that year, when Doctress Neutopia joined Aleph [see "The Rise and Fall of an E-Mail List" in Chapter 5, "E-mail"]. In both situations, I made great efforts which led nowhere, and so when I compare the ambitions I had with what I actually achieved, the point of it all seems questionable. In my first period of desperately intense Internet access, at the end of 1992, I produced the first incarnation of High Weirdness by Email, which might count for something. Legitimate access has been such a rare experience, that perhaps three-quarters of the thousands of words I've come up with while online were composed in situations where I had reason to be looking over my shoulder. My attitude was that it is important to do what you think is important, even if no one else agrees with you, or if you must break rules to do it. One is not setting out to oppose authority, but one does so in order to do whatever one sees to be done.

TF: Has your attitude changed at all since those days?

MP: Basically, I don't think my attitude has changed. I don't now feel the need to get online so often quite as urgently, perhaps because I now have a rented computer at home, but there were long desperate periods in which I was aware that what I was doing was draining and dangerous, but felt that it needed to be done. (The strength of this feeling depended on the confidence I had at the time in the various causes I espouse.) I might question now the urgency, or even the point, of a number of the things I was trying to do—but the same attitude, that it is possible for one's own judgement as to what must be done to override any number of rules, remains.

"so anyhow, if i cant get on at griffith, tomorrow i will go to gavin or michael, beg an hour's use of telnet, post alt.qixnews CFD to alt.config, finish off high weirdness 1.1, unsubscribe to everything. i will go see jack later tonight as well - maybe i could have nyxmail forwarded to his account or something. i will really miss leri, as i think do all the other people who are unsubscribing owing to the flow of mail. i think that is a sign of just how important what is happening there is."

TF: What were some of the tricks you used to get to the terminals in the first place?

MP: My most desperate periods have all been times in which I had no means of access from home, and something urgent was happening online. In such a situation one needs an Internet-connected terminal and an account to which one can connect. Apart from the rare occasion in which I have dialed into an account from the home of a friend, I have always used terminals on university campuses (more on this later). Sometimes this has simply meant getting online through the help of acquaintances there. They would log me in to their accounts, and then I would telnet from there to my American accounts, and try to process several hundred messages (a week's worth) in an hour or two. My legitimate accounts, most of the time, have all been American. These are the accounts by means of which I read and posted to Usenet and subscribed to mailing lists, on systems like Nyx and Launchpad, which allowed just about anyone who could get to the point of logging in, to at least apply for an account on the system.

As I mentioned, I have always used networked terminals on university campuses. This has generally meant using terminals in a student computing lab. What made this possible was that the labs were used by many people, mostly students, and so I could be just another face in the crowd. I had no account on the local system, so everything I ever did was by way of telnet. In some situations an anonymous telnet server could already be found in a menu or subdirectory; in other cases, I had to bring the program with me on disk. In the early days, I found out where these labs were and what to do through contacts in the hacking subculture of one of the three universities here, who were in a constant state of cold war with their own computing administration, as a result of which their computing privileges were constantly being curtailed. Everywhere security loopholes were constantly being opened and closed, so that one never knew whether this might be one's last day online.

TF: Did you ever get caught?

MP: A number of times, and at least once on every campus. Sometimes this happened at moments when I was simply word-processing a file to be uploaded, and not actually online. In some places the security guards came to recognize me, since I would be the last person in the lab at night—that's how far I pushed my luck, and sometimes I was caught out (for example, they would ask to see my student card).

On one occasion, I was using telnet and typing away, sensed someone sitting next to me, and looked up to see two staff members from the main computing center of that campus. I had met them once before, when using two "public" terminals there. However, I was now in a lab five minutes' walk from that centre, so I presume they had been monitoring remote network activity, noticed that someone was connecting to, traced the terminal and its physical location, and sent their enforcers down to the lab to find me. We had a brief dialogue, along the lines of:

"You know you shouldn't be doing this."

"I know, but I thought it was more important that I do this, than obey the rules," an opinion which evidently made my discoverers quite unhappy. In any case, they didn't attempt to detain me, and I left fairly quickly. I have never been formally charged with anything by anyone, so arguably I've received very lenient treatment. I also have no clue how much, if anything, I've cost the universities in question through my use of the network. I was once told that they paid for a constant quota of satellite bandwidth, and so at worst I was simply slowing traffic down, but this sounds potentially bogus.

". . .Just this afternoon I got another "file system full" error message, so I couldn't read further mail, but I have been getting maybe 150+ messages a day. . . I am subscribed to: leri-l, future culture, anarchy-list, zendo, URANTIAL, objectivism, space-investors (have seen this once), HIT-LIST (as of today), weird-l, FWAKE-L, Will, Extropians. . .can't recall any others. Periodicals: I get Non Serviam, Purps, Phirst. I am also subscribed to FNORD-L at nyx, and. . ."

TF: When I lost Net access for a couple of months last year, I found myself experiencing strange, nameless emotions I had never felt before. At times I felt hopelessly disconnected from the world—or at least from the world that most mattered to me. But at other times I realized that, as Adam Fast once said, the Net goes on without you, and when you get back online, you see that it's still pretty much the same as it ever was. This was both enlightening and depressing to me. How does it feel for you to be without Net access for an extended period of time?

MP: It is immensely frustrating not to be able to connect. It can be positively harmful to one's psychology if this occurs at a period of intellectual intensity involving online dialogues, or if one is worried about what might be happening in one's absence. This is my experience at any rate. Knowing that the technical means are there for you to do something, that you have urgent uses for these resources, but that you cannot use them: This is a formula for anguish, especially when what you wish to do is difficult enough to begin with, since it seems that entirely unnecessary difficulties are being added to the task.

TF: What do you do in your periods of "exile?"

MP: In times of "exile," if I could reach a computer, I tended to write diary entries, or compose files to be uploaded when I next got the chance. If there was no computer, I'd do all this on paper. Aleph's disintegration towards the end of 1993 removed one of my main "attractors," and so I had less reason to be striving constantly to be online. As you say, that proved enlightening and depressing, as I was led to question the point of everything that had transpired there. The upshot was that in 1994, I turned to longer-term individual projects, some of which are now approaching fruition.

TF: You've gone through so much to remain in contact with your Net peers, and have so freely disseminated your thoughts and experiences—you're obviously driven by some powerful motivators. To be sure, the public sharing of knowledge and discovery is a major part of this, but you certainly possess personal, idiosyncratic reasons as well—your Net diaries seem to be a good example of the intersection between these two zones of interest. Did the Net cause you to become more open and helpful than you originally considered yourself, or did it simply heighten a natural tendency you had toward being prolifically self-aware?

MP: Firstly, the Net created an opportunity for openness and helpfulness on a scale that I hadn't encountered at all. An account of a trip might be read by thousands of people; a single piece of information, translated to electronic form, thereby potentially comes within reach of all of today's Net-millions (and tomorrow's billions). For someone who was already motivated, as I was, to communicate certain concepts to as broad an audience as possible, this aspect of the Net was a profound attraction. But certainly my online experience has stimulated and focused such aspirations. When I first found, in late 1992, a forum (the Leri-L mailing list) which I was willing to tell just about anything, I did so, which was no doubt cathartic. But with time I have become more discriminating (with the occasional period of frantic desperation!), owing to a growing sense of purpose—that is, of why I'm here.

An initial impulse was to spread the word about all sorts of ideas, mostly future-oriented and horizon-expanding. Later, as I developed a sense of the Net as a thing to be explored in itself, I began trying to network between the different forces I already saw here. I now see myself as pursuing a rather complex but fairly specific agenda. Nonetheless, being oneself while online means exposing oneself to completely unpredictable influences; the openness often expressed in individual .plans (and now, Web home pages) suggests to me that many people are finding this "risk" worthwhile. You can analyze this in terms of a will to power, incidentally; the more people know, or can know of you, the better they will understand you—and so the more opportunity there is that you can join forces productively.

"Late last week Nirad uploaded about 2 Megs of text files to slopoke for me; Lara has the disks they're on at the moment, so she can see what I put out for the world to see under the name 'Scriptures,' but the files are listed in HWbE v2.0. They included High Weirdness by Email, 7 volumes of Scripture of V\R, the text of The Human Evasion, 'Letters Between Enemies' & 'Venom Crystals,' 'Waves Forest' [incomplete], 'Golem XIV' [incomplete], the text of 'The Conspirators' Hierarchy,' and a few shorter files (including 'all24').

"I got mail from after my announcement on alt.slack / alt.discordia / alt.religion.kibology / alt.zines; he took *everything* and put it in a special directory at redspread, /pub/Weirdness (but created a special directory, /zines/Scripture - the first time that the Scriptures had their own directory anywhere). Jon at the Nameless Site got weird2-0.doc, then i got mail from the guy who runs slopoke ftp, & he created /pub/Weirdness also, and said I should put future uploads in /pub/incoming/mitch. Finally today I checked, and there was a new directory: /pub/Scripture. Also HWbE v2.0 has now been posted to alt.slack, alt.discordia, and alt.zines. Things travel quickly these days!"

Given the history of the Internet, it is no surprise that many of the organizations connected to it are educational institutions. The Internet is growing in popularity in the business and home world, but in education, the Net is nearly a way of life.

In the U.S., virtually all large colleges and universities, both public and private, allow their students some degree of Internet access. In many countries throughout the world, Internet access at a university is also possible. Even small colleges, and many community colleges and vocational schools, have Internet connections.

You can use the access provided by most educational institutions to your advantage. There are several means of obtaining access through an educational institution—some more upfront than others.

First, most educational institutions will allow you to purchase network access on their computer systems. With large state-funded schools, this is almost always the case. Most schools have usage policies that can be stretched to fit just about any kind of personal access to the Net (anything associated with the general education of its citizens), providing you with justification for an account. (It might be more difficult to get access for your business.) The Net is an education in and of itself.

The major pitfall to purchasing a university account is the exorbitant cost. Because the schools have a primary obligation to their students, the cost that they set for non-students can be quite prohibitive. For example, most schools are going to charge you for file storage space on their system, CPU usage time, and connect-time charges, all of which can add up very quickly.


Daily Cost

Monthly Cost

Reading E-mail



Sending E-mail



Reading News



Posting News



Storage of Files






Assuming you don't want to mortgage your home or skip any student loan payments, what can you do to avoid this expense? Consider becoming a part-time student.

The primary mission of any college or university is to educate its students. You will find that most institutions feel that students should take advantage of the Internet's resources as an educational tool (like the library), which is why they provide Internet access to students. The university usually absorbs most of the costs of access as part of its educational mission, though it may charge students a technology fee (ranging from $20 to $100 per semester) that covers a mere fraction of the actual costs.

Most colleges offer courses to the community as a community service, or as continuing education programs. That means you can simply register for a night class, and keep current on a topic of interest—or learn something new—while you enjoy your Net access. You might even be able to take a class that would help you better utilize your Net access. (The actual policies will vary at each institution, of course, but Net access is usually easy to come by.)

For the desperate, there are other means of access. These might not be ethical, but if you're a junkie and need a fix, they might satisfy.

Many universities today offer public computing facilities for students. These labs provide the programs that students need to connect to the e-mail system or network at the university. But these also might help provide you with access to the Internet. You should be aware, though, that using labs provided for students might cause you more trouble than it is worth. Many universities restrict usage of clusters to ID-carrying members of the university.

If NCSA Telnet (a communications program developed by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois) is installed on the machines in the public facilities, you are in business. Using telnet you can connect to other resources on the Internet, including those services that provide cheap or free Internet accounts to those with telnet access. You won't need to dial into these services because the machines at the university's public facility are essentially dialed-in already.

One drawback of using a campus computing cluster is that you have to go there to use it, and even if they don't expect you to show an ID card, you have to look reasonably like a student whenever you go. On the other hand, a campus cluster is a great place to learn about the Internet; if you notice someone else surfing the Net and you have a question, ask them. People who compute are still mighty neighborly.

For more information about obtaining accounts accessible by telnet only, you can write:

Attn: Guest Accounts
Free Software Foundation
545 Technology Square
Room 426
Cambridge, MA 02139 USA

Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for reply. Please attach a note specifying whether you are requesting a new account or wishing to reactivate an already existing one.

The students at the school themselves might also be a resource for Internet access. Although it is certainly a violation of ethical usage policy and nearly all academic computing policies, account sharing will get you access to the Internet. The greater the size of the institution, the greater your advantage in this case. As long as you are careful not to abuse the account (for example, don't harass people via e-mail, or engage in some activity that will bring you to the attention of the school's computing services), chances are no one will ever know.

The resources at the schools are limited, and no one wants to pay highly trained computer professionals to monitor all the student accounts all the time. With a little caution, you can get away with this quite easily.

The consequences could be high; if you're caught, the student could lose his or her computing privileges and face suspension—or even expulsion. This type of activity may even be illegal in your state; you both could conceivably be prosecuted. Some precautions you will definitely want to take:

Employer-Provided Access

Many companies are jumping on the Internet bandwagon these days. You'd be hard-pressed to find a company in the computer industry that does not have Net access, but more and more, companies that are not directly related to the computer biz are installing local area networks and purchasing Internet connections. If a large LAN is installed where you work, you might be able to swing a Net account through your place of employment.

As usual, the larger the organization is, the more likely it is to have Net access. It still costs at least $1500 a month for a company to maintain a continuous 56K-bps Internet feed, so small companies are less likely to have the monetary resources for their own Net connections. But say that your company is large enough to have its own LAN. You have a computer on your desk, and so does everyone else who works there. That's a start. If you and your co-workers can exchange interoffice e-mail, you're on your way to Internet access.

There are several methods companies use for internal mail. If it's a small LAN networked via Ethernet, chances are very good that they use a personal-computer-based mail system designed for an office environment, such as Lotus Notes or WordPerfect Office. These packages are designed for internal mail, but they also have ways of linking to the Internet for mail. It's a matter of converting the protocol they use for mail to an Internet-compatible mail protocol such as Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (or SMTP—a mail protocol commonly used by UNIX machines on the Internet). Setting up an SMTP gateway for a WP Office environment is no easy task, though, and not something you can do off the cuff.

If the computer on your desk is a terminal, or a PC acting as a terminal, or a UNIX workstation, then chances are high that you use a mail system that is already based on SMTP or X.400 (another protocol in use on the Internet) and the only thing you need to do is find out the specific syntax used on your system to route Internet mail outside the office. This is as simple as sending mail to your system administrator. (If you don't know who they are, some good guesses are "root" or "operator".)

Perhaps your company does have Internet access. Perhaps you have obtained an account (or convinced management to make accounts available to razor-sharp employees such as you). Consider that it's going to be your company's rules you play by. Do you really want your sole means of Net access to be through your employer?

Because your employer owns the system you are using for your access, your employer decides on usage policies. The areas of electronic law and e-mail privacy are being tested in courts as we speak, and you don't want to end up a test case. You should be very conscious of this fact, and make sure to get all of the policies in writing before you start surfing the net.

The first and foremost issue with employer-provided access is privacy. Your company may decide (and this is within its rights to do so) that the system may only be used for work-related activities. That means they can monitor the system, and even go as far as to read your e-mail and search your files to determine that they are being used for work. There are many horror stories on the Net about employers who have read e-mail, and worse, fired employees for what they considered abuse of their systems.

Personal use is the other big issue. Many companies pay a substantial amount of money for access to the Internet, and they don't want you e-mailing your friends or perusing rec.pets.iguanas on their time. That means they might not make Usenet News or IRC Chat available on their system.

You could push the limits of your company's personal-use policies. There's a newsgroup for everything, and chances are you could find a handful related to the work that you do. Slip in a personal newsgroup here and there, and no one is the wiser. Only you can determine how far you can stretch the policy at your company—or if your savings can afford the possible consequences.

Does all this mean that work is out as a link to the Net? The key thing to remember about this elaborate computer system in your office is that people run it. And those people may also be your source to the Net. Any large system has system administrators, the folks who keep your network up and running. Chances are your employer pays the administrators a fair amount of money to watch the system so that they don't have to, and because your boss might not be a computer expert. Sysadmins are skilled in the ways of the Net, and are probably Internet gurus themselves, so this might buy you some slack.

It really depends on the atmosphere at your place of employment. No one wants to compromise their ethics, let alone risk their job to give you a Net feed, but with a little common sense on your part and a friendly enough office atmosphere, you might be able to talk a sysadmin into giving you a separate account on the work system that you can use for your personal Net account. It can't hurt to try; a beer now and then after work can go a long way. (Gurus are rumored to like Guinness Stout.)

Cooperative Access

An Internet co-op is like any other co-op: a group of consumers with similar wants or needs obtains an otherwise unpurchasable commodity by splitting the cost among its users; you and the members of the co-op can all benefit. The idea behind co-op access to the Internet is so new that no co-ops are online yet, but efforts are springing up left and right.

The costs of starting an Internet dial-up service are mainly fixed costs. There is the cost of the initial hardware: a computer to log into, modems to connect to, phone lines, and the Internet connection itself. These costs can be split among members of the co-op, and then the monthly operating costs can also be split. That way, members can all enjoy access without the expense of purchasing a connection individually.

The most well-known co-op forming is the Toronto Internet Co-operative. The membership in the co-op will be limited to 2000 members so that the cost of adding new local phone lines, modems, or disk drives will be finite, and can be paid for solely with membership fees. The membership fee for the co-op would be pricey at $230, though that's not much more than PSI's start-up fee. Members of the co-op would then be entitled to unlimited access for $7 a month, one of the most attractive opportunities around, and would be part-owners of their own Internet node.

The contacts for the Toronto co-op are:

Rocco Racioppo, P.Eng.

Dr. Art Stretton

Professional Engineers Ontario

Toronto Internet Co-operative

(416) 961-1288 ext 369

(905) 883-9555

You may also find that your area might be suitable for a co-op as well. Information is also available from the Toronto co-op on starting your own. It would be a lot of work to go to just to obtain personal Internet access, but it's not impossible to do.

Alternative Nets

Computer networking is not a new concept, and the Internet is not the only computer network. There are other networks (such as FidoNet, discussed earlier) that are independent of the Internet and there are even more alternative networks available. The lure of the Internet is global access to a variety of information, but if you have limited information needs, there might be an alternative to the Internet that would suit your needs.

For example, if you were interested primarily in creating a wide area network out of your company's far-flung LANs, or if you were interested in receiving only specific information from a single database on a regular basis, one network that specializes in providing access to networked resources is Tymnet (1-800-937-2862). If you have specific business needs, and are looking for a service to provide market information and access to daily news or other items that might be relevant to business, the Dow Jones (1-800-832-1234) network offers those services to business through local dial-in as well.

There are also networks that have evolved around specific professions, which can usually be located by talking to others in your field. Elementary and secondary educators, for instance, often want access to the Internet because of the vast teaching resources it has to offer. Many local school systems have also recognized this and have begun to form networks of their own, designed to help educators contact each other. One such network is IDEAnet, sponsored by the Indiana state department of education. IDEAnet and other educational networks are generally sponsored by some other similar organization, and usually require professional affiliation in the field to gain access.

Another alternative network is PeaceNet, operated by the Institute for Global Communications (IGC) in San Francisco. The purpose of PeaceNet is to link peace workers and people interested in peace-related causes around the world. Many peace organizations are connected to PeaceNet, such as Amnesty International and Greenpeace. PeaceNet is a global network that offers international access in countries such as Nicaragua, Brazil, Australia, the UK, Canada, Nigeria, Sweden, the former Soviet republics, and Germany.

Although a network like PeaceNet might not offer all the services of full Internet access, many of the services found on the Internet are duplicated on PeaceNet, such as discussion groups and even some USENET Newsgroups. E-mail is also available via PeaceNet, and can also be exchanged with Internet users.

PeaceNet's basic rates are similar to many online services ($15 startup fee, $10 monthly, and $5-10/hr. connect-time charges), but if an alternative network like this suits your needs it might be a better deal. Contact them at:

18 De Boom Street
San Francisco, CA 94107

Chances are, however, you want all of the services offered via the Internet. Although specialty networks might be great for specific causes, the appeal of the Internet is both the volume and variety of information and users it offers.


If your goals for Internet access are modest—you want e-mail, but it doesn't have to be delivered instantaneously, or you want to peruse the Usenet—obtaining an account from a BBS can cost next to nothing. If you want to chat with others live around the world, or participate in multi-user simulations, or perhaps just get your e-mail right away instead of once a day, you'll need a real-time connection through a FreeNet, an online service provider, or an ISP.

Inevitably, you need to draw the bottom line. BBSs and FreeNets don't cost much, but their resources are limited. The costs of commercial service providers are dropping, but their services are increasing as rapidly as technology does, so they'll always cost something significant. If even a flat monthly rate can't convince you to shell out for a shell account, you might be tempted to try more drastic measures—skimming access from your local university or your employer.

Still daunted? It won't be long before you are able to make your desktop personal computer into its own Internet node. (The technology is already in use in the form of the Serial Line Internet Protocol (SLIP) and the Point-to-Point Protocol (PPP). These are protocols that fool the Internet into thinking that your home computer, connected temporarily via modem, is permanently connected to the Internet. Ask an Internet service provider if they offer a SLIP/PPP connection.) As the convergence of television, telephony, and computing continues unabated, you may soon be offered Internet access right from your house by a telephone company, a long-distance company, a cable company, or even a utility company!

Of course, the sooner you get onto the Internet, the sooner you can become a guru.

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