Top Stories from the Special Reports pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Tuesday, November 29, 1994

Navigating the Internet: Directions Are Required


By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
AS easy as it is to crawl the Internet Web once you're on-line, it can be a chore to find out how to connect in the first place.

While there are many well-known U.S. companies like CompuServe, Prodigy and America Online Inc. offering on-line services to the public, what hard-core Internet junkies refer to as the net are functions with names like Gopher, Telnet, FTP, WWW, and CU-HL SeeMe (See-you/see-me). Most of these weird-sounding services are available not through the better known on-line companies, but through an array of small companies sprouting up around the world at a dizzying rate.

As a result, just about any book or monthly magazine listing Internet service providers is out of date the day it is published. The best way to find a dial-up connection, ironically, is through the Internet itself.

Catch-22? Maybe not. As Adam Gaffin advises in his beginner's guide, "EFF's Guide to the Internet," the prime Internet directive is: "Ask. People know."

If you're living in, say, Oslo, and you want to know how to subscribe to a local Internet services company, find a friend anywhere in the world who has access to the net. If you know someone in Johannesburg, ask them to search in Norway by clicking their mouse on the country on the Web's map of the world, then by clicking on Oslo. They will get a list of local companies offering connections to the World Wide Web, known as servers.

Service provider lists may also be found through the Internet by means other than the web. "The Public Dialup Internet Access List (PDIAL)" by Peter Kaminsky provides an international list of companies, their prices, and physical addresses. It may be received via electronic mail on the Internet by sending a message to: info-deli-server@netcom.com with these words as your order: "send PDIAL."

But before choosing your service provider, remember the showbiz adage: "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail."

To get on the internet, you need a powerful personal computer, with a 386 processor or faster, with Microsoft's Windows software, or an Apple MacIntosh computer.

The faster the modem you have the better - anything slower than 9600 bits per second (the rate the information travels the telephone line) will be too slow to take advantage of all the action graphics and videos show on the net. And if your service provider is charging you by the minute, the faster your modem the cheaper your bill will be. But powerful modems are no use if your communications software does not match its speed, and you must select your service provider with the same question: some communicate at their end only at 9600 bps.

The next step is to decide if you want to be held by the hand by your software provider, or if you can get a little more involved. Some service providers have all the software on their end of the connection with fairly easy menus and instructions. With other companies the software is on your computer.

The disadvantage to the first method is that you have no direct connection to the Internet. It's as though you're working on a computer on the other side of town by remote control. The second method is faster, but you've got to know how to download and install software.

Finally, make sure you know what kind of technical support you're going to get, or need.

Which brings us to the bottom line. There are so many service providers now that you can afford to shop around for the cheapest connection. You may be fortunate enough to live in an area where there is a FreeNet. The state of Illinois offers free services to its residents in Prairie-HL Freenet. Canada's capital, Ottawa, also has a FreeNet.

Some companies, such as Britain's Demon Internet Ltd. charge a monthly subscription fee (theirs is 10, or about $15) and on-line time is free. But most give only a limited amount of free time each month - maybe an hour a day -and you pay for the rest.

If you're not living close to a dial-up service, but need to make a long distance call, ask if the provider offers access through PDN or PSDN lines (Packet Switched Data Network). This is a phone line that you call into locally, and that connects with the foreign service provider. But there is usually a stiffer charge added to the provider's contract for charges to the PSDN line. Ireland's EuroKom offers Europe-wide access by this method.

These are only a small number of the routes to getting lists of service providers. The best way is to get some on-line time yourself, and do a little Internet surfing to find the right company for you. You might have to go to Johannesburg to do it, but it could be worth the trip.

BRAD SPURGEON is on the staff of the International Herald Tribune.






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