"This ain't the Waldorf; if it was you wouldn't be here."
-- Notice found in country hotels, ca. 1900
Before you can even begin thinking about "surfing through cyberspace," you have to be connected. If you're not, you will need to connect to the Internet through a local or (international) commercial provider, via either a low-end or a high-end connection. (NOTE: If your organization does provide direct Internet connectivity, you may also be able to access the Internet, via low-end or high-end options, from your home -- ask.)
Essentially, in the low-end connections, your computer acts as a "dumb" terminal to simply access the host Internet system. The actual level of your Internet access is dependent on software running on the host system, and you must learn a little about the operating system on that host to take advantage of your connection; different hosts may offer different 'packages' of services (email, Usenet news, gopher, WWW, etc.). You can think of it as contracting with a cable TV provider -- your charges will depend on the number of 'premium channels' (Internet services) to which you subscribe. Additionally, you may be able to purchase access to commercial news services, stock quotes, etc.
Low-end connections require a telephone line, any type of computer with a simple, easy-to-use telecommunications software program, and a modem. Today, most new computers come with modems already installed. If a modem needs to be purchased, the recommended speed for a new one is 28.8 baud or faster, although those with speeds as low as 9600 or 2400 baud may still do the job; they're just a lot slower.
(Time to pause for some "techno-lingua": SLIP stands for Serial Line Internet Protocol; PPP stands for Point to Point Protocol; both are means of allowing Internet transmissions via a regular phone line and a modem. TCP/IP stands for Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol; as you may recall from Lesson 2, TCP/IP is the software that makes every system on the Internet conversant -- and capable of carrying high bandwidth, interactive multimedia Internet applications, e.g., graphics, sound, animation).
High-end SLIP/PPP connections allow you to dialup to a computer that acts as a gateway for you to the rest of the Internet. SLIP/PPP connections also require faster modems, 14.4 or, better yet, 28.8 baud or faster. Because SLIP/PPP connections turn your computer into a node on the Internet, you don't have to learn another computer operating system -- you just use Internet tools running on your own system, a method which usually gives you greater flexibility. However, you are responsible for acquiring and, in some cases, installing software to facilitate your connection and to access various Internet services.
For example, in order to run Netscape software or other GUI (i.e., Graphic User Interface) browsers, you'll first need a direct link to the Internet or a dial-up IP (SLIP or PPP) Internet connection. In addition, if you're working from a stand-alone personal computer running Windows, OS/2 or Mac system software, you'll need "driver" TCP/IP software to enable your machine to communicate with other Internet hosts over your dialup IP connection (if you are running a recent vintage operating system, TCP/IP probably was installed as part of the package). To make everything work, i.e., sound and full-motion video, you may need additional external applications. For Macs, this is usually not a problem, but for IBM compatibles, this could mean a sound card and additional add-ons. You'll also need a fairly powerful operating system to make it all hum (286 owners need not apply!); check with your Internet provider for specifics.
Some local commercial providers may provide hourly SLIP or PPP access; others may also optionally sell dedicated/leased line connections. In contrast to other applications, the special configuration of dedicated lines allows for higher speed digital transmissions. Dedicated/leased lines provide up to 24 hour connectivity via high-speed dedicated telephone lines from your site to the service provider's network access point and back, in what's called a "local loop." That means you pay for access not only from the regional gateway out to the Internet, but for connectivity from your computer to the gateway and back again.
Not surprisingly, the cost for dedicated/leased line connectivity is very high. The price for connecting to the service provider's network access point may run upwards of $10,000 per year. Because special equipment is needed for the dedicated lines, an additional monthly "local loop" charge must be paid to the phone company. This is why this level of connectivity is usually only available through government agencies, large corporations, and research institutions which can justify the need for such access and can allocate the funds necessary to pay for it.
Of course, there are other types of Internet connections available. You can contract with a national commercial network for Internet access; America Online (AOL), CompuServe, Delphi, Genie, and Prodigy are such services; each offers a variety of Internet connection options. Typically, you pay a flat fee for unlimited monthly usage (although, the rumor is this good deal is costing providers too much to continue to be the norm).
Or, you may be able to access an Internet service provider who offers local connectivity (check out your yellow pages). Finally, you can telnet to a number of "Free-nets" on the Net which offer some nifty options (I'll give you those addresses in a couple of weeks when we talk about the telnet function.)
_How to Connect to the Internet_. American Library Association editions, 1996. Schneider, Karen. _Internet Access Cookbook: a Librarian's Commonsense Guide to Low-Cost Connections_. Neal-Schuman, 1996.
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