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April 16, 1995

Ocean State Free-Net
adds new resource

By Timothy C. Barmann

A powerful federal government resource will soon be available to users of the Ocean State Free-Net, the state-sponsored public access computer network.

Starting April 26, Free-Net users can connect to the U.S. Government Printing Office's online system, called "GPO Access." The service allows users to search and read the Federal Register, the Congressional Record, as well as pending bills and laws, said Howard Boksenbaum, vice president of the Free- Net's Steering Committee.

The Free-Net will be among only nine computer networks in the U.S. that provide this online service to home computer users for free, and the first of its kind in New England, said Daniel O'Mahony, of the Brown University Library. O'Mahony and Free-Net volunteers coordinated the local effort to provide the service. (A public ceremony marking the service's launch is planned. Details below.)

The Free-Net, which has been running since September on a "pilot" basis, is an electronic reference center and post office. Among other things, users can send and receive electronic mail worldwide. Soon, it may also be a source of state government legislative information provided by the Secretary of State's office.

While the Free-Net will have a formal opening this summer when its operation is polished and more features are added, it already has 3,500 to 4,000 users, Boksenbaum said.

It's accessible now and free to any Rhode Island resident with the most basic computer system and modem. Donations to help with operating costs are welcome.

Most Rhode Islanders can connect to the Free-Net with a local call, except if you live in Little Compton. Boksenbaum said efforts are being made to include the Little Compton Public Library in the CLAN system which electronically links libraries around the state. Once that link is established, residents can dial into the library's modems for Free-Net access. Boksenbaum wouldn't speculate on when that will happen.

Those looking for direct access to the Internet from Ocean State Free-Net will likely be disappointed. The Free-Net "is not an alternative to commercial Internet service providers," warns an online document. While some preset sites on the Internet are accessible, the Free-Net's main purpose is to provide Rhode Islanders with e-mail capability, and to give them access to government information and other educational resources.

(A future column will list and compare Internet providers in our area.)

Here's how to connect: Set your communications software to VT100 terminal emulation and set your communications parameters to N-8-1. Dial the local RINet access number with your modem - Providence: 946-9810; Northern R.I.: 658-3995; East Bay: 683-4550; South County: 789-9764; Westerly: 348-9330. At the username prompt, type "guest" (without quotes) and for password, type "guest" again. At the "telnet" next prompt, type "telnet osfn.rhilinet.gov".

Once connected to the Free-Net, choose option 2 (visitor), then choose 1 to explore the system; choose 2 to register for an account. The validation process takes about a week.

Helpful documents are available on the Free-Net for new users. From the main menu, choose 6 (Gopher Center), then 10 (OSFN), then 2 (Survival Guide). There are about 20 online help guides that cover the basics of using the Free- Net.

The Free-Net has a help desk at Johnson & Wales University, staffed by volunteers between 9 and 11 a.m. weekdays at 598-1420. For automated help, call the Rhode Island Department of State Library Services at 277-2728, Ext. 500.


April 26 - A public ceremony, demonstration and reception will be held to mark the launch of Free-Net's new GPO Access service, at noon at the Rhode Island State House, Room 208. Rep. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) will perform the ceremonial "first search" of the Congressional Record.

Also April 26 - The Ocean State Internet Society will meet at the Weaver Public Library in East Providence on Grove Street at 7 p.m. Internet expert Angela Taylor will explain the basics of how to build your own World Wide Web page. For more information, call OSIS at 435-8083, or e-mail osis@osfn.rhilinet.gov. Cost: free.

Timothy C. Barmann is a Journal-Bulletin staff photographer. His column runs every other Sunday on the On Line page. Comments about this column or suggestions for future topics can be sent to him via e-mail at tim@cybertalk.com.