Last month I talked about using the so-called full service providers like CompuServe and America Online as the base for your e-mail. AOL and CompuServe both cost $9.95 for the first five hours. Both AOL and CompuServe offer a lot of extras including up to the minute news and access to current sports scores and the other stuff I told you about , including access to the World Wide Web. All the "other stuff" takes time, however, and at AOL and CompuServe extra time means money. If you use it more than five hours of online time in a month, the cost goes up dramatically. Twenty hours a month on CompuServe will cost you $44.45, while 30 hours on AOL will cost you $83.70. Many people want to explore the World Wide Web and because the WWW, often known as the World Wide Wait, is very time consuming it makes sense to look for more economical ways of accessing the Web. Fortunately, those economical ways also provide you with a virtually unlimited e-mail capacity equivalent to what you get with CompuServe or AOL. The folks who bring you this unadorned access to the World Wide Web are called Independent Service Providers or ISPs, and they exist on both a local and national level. Most of them charge around $20 per month for a full service account with virtually unlimited access directly to the Internet.
The biggest and most successful of the national ISPs is Netcom. Netcom was the first company out of the blocks a few years ago and it has established a dominant position in the national internet access market. Netcom provides you with many local access numbers for only $19.95 for almost unlimited use and an 800 number that you can use for a modest hourly surcharge. Netcom has grown very fast, however, and it has sometimes been difficult for it to keep up with its growth. During those times its service has suffered. Last winter when I was in Hawaii I was completely unable to access the 800 number on Netcom and I had to have my mail forwarded to me at America On-line, where I had easy access via Flashmail and the AOLNet. The national internet access market, however, is extremely competitive and AT&T, MCI and even America Online are beginning to break into it. AT&T's service, WorldNet, was announced only a few months ago and is free for limited use if you use AT&T long distance service. For full access the charge increases to $14.95 for ATT long distance customers and $19.95 for the rest of us. The AT&T WorldNet service has run into a lot of start-up problems and even AT&T admits that they promised too much too soon. Many users of the AT&T WorldNet have reported problems getting their software to work, getting access to the network when the software does work, and finally getting access to customer service when nothing works. MCI also has a national service that competes with the AT&T service, but unlike AT&T they have been very quiet about developing their network. They have focussed on their business service but are about ready to jump into the consumer market. Again, as in the area of the full service providers, the competition in this field is intense and one can expect that in order to remain players in the game, AT&T and MCI will solve their service problems in the very near term. In the short term, however, if you need a national service provider, Netcom is far and away the leader and I think far and away the best. But one word of caution is in order. This is a very rapidly changing landscape and you need to check out your options over time. Even the lumbering Microsoft is getting into the act and if you favor the 400 pound gorilla routine you may want to give MS Network a try in the fall. If you use Netcom for a while to learn the Web you can experiment with other services in the future. Nobody will beat Netcom's price by a significant degree and their software is compatible with Netscape's Navigator software, the first choice for the moment.
If you do not need national access there are many local Internet Service Providers that offer a wide range of service beginning with very poor and ending with first class. The disadvantage of using these local service providers is that if you have to access them from out of town you have to pay a toll charge. If you do not need to out of area access, or if you don't mind paying the toll charge, their $19.95 a month unlimited service, full Internet access service is certainly the way to go. Be very careful, however, when you choose your local Internet Service Provider. Many of them have very few lines and you will have to wait a long, long time to get on. Moreover, some of them have absolutely atrocious customer service.
Most of the local Internet service providers provide you with all of the software that you need to get on to the Internet and browse the World Wide Web. Some of them, however, provide you with World Wide Web "browser" software that is somewhat limited. Make sure that the browser you get is fully compatible with all of the modern World Wide Web graphical capabilities. In my estimation, Navigator 2.0 from Netscape is currently the best, but again, in this field change is the only constant, and who knows who may come up with a better product next month or three months from now. Your local Internet Service Provider will also provide you with an e-mail address and an e-mail account which you should be able to access through your Netscape software or through a stand alone program such as Eudora that is designed solely for e-mail. Most of the local Internet providers are very, very conscious of the need to provide full service e-mail that allows you to do things like attach files to your messages and keep a phone book. Always remember that customer service is absolutely critical. If you cannot get help when you need it, your system will not work and you will be left with an extremely high level of frustration.
The best local Internet Service Provider that I have used is Star Net from the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson. They put the full edition of the Arizona Daily Star online with lots of links to topics of interest. They do not have a Phoenix number, however. The worst provider I have experienced is PrimeNet which has both Phoenix and Tucson numbers. PrimeNet gave me a free evaluation account several years ago. It never worked and I never used it. Then they started to bill me for their non-service. They don't answer the phone or letters and every month or so I get a bill for the service I never had. Last month it had a big, red "COLLECTION" stamped on so I guess we are starting down the road to justice. I look forward to the opportunity to tell my story to some people who will listen! I see ads all the time for new companies I have never heard of who are breaking into the business. If you find one that is great let me know and I will share it with the crowd. In meantime,
I hope you have great summer. The dry heat is upon us!!