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July 9, 1995

It's easier than you think
to connect to the Internet

By Timothy C. Barmann

Connecting to the Internet used to be like joining an exclusive country club. Only those who could afford to pay thousands of dollars up front could even get in the door.

Now the Internet is practically at your doorstep. As its popularity grows, companies that sell Internet access are springing up left and right. And commercial on-line services are scrambling to add Internet services to their basic offerings.

The Internet - the global web of computer networks - is maintained by many organizations, though no single one owns it. There is no central place you can call to get an account.

To connect, you have to pay one of a number of companies, called "Internet providers," which lease their own "gateway" or high-speed connection.

(Or, if you're lucky, your school or business may already have its own connection and allow you to access it for free.)

The providers listed in the chart charge a monthly fee, which usually includes several hours per month of Internet access. If you go over that limit, you're charged an hourly rate of 50 cents to $2.95. A few providers allow unlimited access for a flat monthly fee.

How do you choose between so many providers?

Consider price, reliability and extras the provider may offer.

In comparing prices, remember that cheapest isn't always better. A provider that offers unlimited access may draw so many customers that you get busy signals when trying to connect.

Also, a company that's been offering Internet access for a while is probably a good bet because it's had a chance to work out the kinks in its service.

Some Internet providers offer extras like free access to bulletin boards (Log on America of Providence and bbsnet WORLDWIDE of Portsmouth). One has news from a local television station and an edited news report from USA Today (Log on America).

If you want more than just Internet access, consider one of the large on- line services. They provide an easy path to the Internet, but some have limited connections to it. Only Prodigy and CompuServe allow access to the World Wide Web. Prodigy is the cheapest if you sign on for more than 5 hours a month and it has local access numbers throughout the state. Prodigy's Web access is available to Windows users only.

While online services are generally more expensive than Internet-only providers, you get more. Most have chat areas often visited by celebrities or company executives who participate in live conversations among subscribers. The online services also offer electronic versions of newspapers such as The New York Times (America Online) and, as of last week, the Journal-Bulletin (Prodigy).

Here are some tips when choosing an Internet access provider:

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.