Connecting to the Internet

When I first wrote this page in 1995, only geeks knew how to connect to the Internet. When Microsoft decided at the last minute to include the Dial-Up Networking component in the basic distribution for Windows 95, that changed overnight. Four years later, the instructions are very much simplified for most people:
  1. Get one of the following:
  2. Get out your local telephone book, and call one of the companies listed under the heading "Internet Service Providers".
  3. Tell them you want "a dial-up internet account for personal use".
  4. In the USA and most of Europe, expect to pay USD 20 to USD 25 per month for unlimited interactive use. (Often defined as "up to 100 hours per month".)
You can reasonably expect the service provider's technical support desk to talk you through setting up your system.

This leaves you with a couple of questions, which I will try to answer:

How Do I Choose A Provider?

Basically, there are the following classes of Internet Service Providers (ISPs): Which one is better, depends on who you are and what you need from a provider. Different types of service providers cater to different types of users, and you will be happier with a provider that really wants your business.

Telephone Companies

Telephone companies are the worst provider for almost all classes of customers. Most users are surprised at this. The reasons are multiple and complex: All the other types of Internet Service Providers have to buy parts of their systems from the telephone companies, who resent having to sell these services to their competitors. All of them can tell you war stories of hostility and incompetence in the telephone companies. Stay away!

(This warning does not necessarily apply outside of the United States. Many European telephone companies have a century-old tradition of civil service and are giving excellent service at reasonable prices.)

Local Providers

Every community has at least a handful of small Internet companies, usually owned and operated by an individual or a family. Like all small businesses, some are wonderful, some are mediocre, and some are outright rip-offs. But the best of them are better than anything else you will ever find, and you owe it to yourself and your community to find those and to support them, unless you specifically need the slightly different services that a National provider can offer.

Look for a service provider whose "point-of-presence" (i.e. the telephone number that your modem calls to get connected) is a local call. Per-minute connection charges will make your internet use prohibitively expensive.

A special class of local provider is the educational service provider. In many localities of the USA, school districts and community colleges offer very inexpensive subscriptions to selected groups, that are often so loosely defined as to make everyone eligible. In my home town, you can get Internet service from the county education office for USD 100 per year if you are

I suspect that enrolling in even a single evening class for adults will qualify you as a student. Their service may not be the best, but at half the price of commercial service, it is affordable to some families that could not otherwise afford it.

Most local providers have a mix of personal and business customers. They make almost no money on personal customers, so don't expect them to spend a lot of time on you. Business customers demand a high level of service, and pay more for it. Here are some of the differentiators:

Some local service providers cater exclusively to business customers. Usually this will be obvious as you scan the telephone book.

National Providers

National providers have hundreds of access points, so that they are a local call from almost everywhere. The best known is America On-Line (AOL). My personal favorite in this group is Earthlink. The main advantage of a National provider over a local provider, is that you don't have to change provider if you move to another city. If you travel a lot, it is also neat to be able to get connected at night with a local call from any hotel room. And AOL is a local call in most parts of the WORLD.

Less Developed Areas

The USA, Europe, Hong Kong, Singapore and a few other pockets of the world have a head start on getting Internet access, in that they have Some areas have serious shortcomings in on or both of these areas, and it will be a lot harder and more expensive to get connected if you live and work in one of those areas, but you should not give up. We have already reached the point where not being connected is a serious impediment to economic development, and governments that used to insist that all communications to the outside world must be mediated by the government are beginning to understand that it is only a question of WHEN they must let go of the information monopoly. Thus, individuals that can and will make this happen, are valuable in promoting the economic future of their country. You may want to start by taking a look at the Network Startup Resource Center.

Old Computers

I wrote in 1995, that in order to get yourself connected to the Internet, you need a few things:

System requirements for an Internet capable computer

I really don't want to discuss which kind of computer is best. Unix, MacIntosh, Windows, OS/2: Each has many devoted followers who would be very unhappy if they had to switch to something else. If you already have one, it can probably be made to work, unless it is quite old and *very* much slower than the current models.
  1. "IBM-compatible PC family"
    Minimum 80386 with 8 MB RAM
    At least 20 MB free space on the hard disk before you start.
    MS Windows-95 or OS/2 Warp.
    A VGA color display.
  2. MacIntosh
    If you want to "cruise the web" you need a Mac with
    color display
    System 7.0 or later
    8 MB RAM (either real or virtual; real recommended)

Internet Software for Windows

If you are running Windows 3.1 or 3.11, you should upgrade now. While you can buy networking kits to run on top of older Windows versions, Windows95 comes with the basic networking support built-in. Some of the user applications are not best in their class, however. Since Windows' Internet support is based on the "WinSock" specification, it is possible to mix and match pieces. Here is how that works:

The low-level protocol is implemented in a DLL called WINSOCK.DLL. Many different implementations exist, but they all look the same to the application programs. Here are some different WINSOCK DLLs:

Then you need the useful programs such as FTP, Telnet, POP E-mail etc. All of these make calls to WINSOCK for low-level services.

Several WinSock libraries and many application programs are available on the Internet's various FTP archives such as Most of these are shareware, which means that you must pay a license fee to the developer/publisher if you use it for more than a short evaluation period. And many of them will stop working after a while if you don't pay to get the activation code.

Here is a list of where to get some of these packages:

Other Equipment

Revision history:
	$Log: connect.htm,v $
	Revision 1.4  2001/01/20 21:10:33  lars
	*** empty log message ***
	Revision 1.3  1999/07/26 14:52:10  lars
	Brought "Connecting to the internet" up to date.
	Revision 1.2  1999/06/26 22:17:45  lars
	Site re-organization.
Updated 96-12-09 by lars@silcom.COM