The most important link in the chain is the Internet provider. There are many of them with varied offerings. Organisations like Delphi and CompuServe are not pure Internet providers. They have their own exclusive offerings and complicated on-line charges. Even at Pounds 10 per month, you will pay more to your Internet provider than you do to the BBC for a year's TV licence and think what you get for that.
What should you expect? A good provider will supply all the software that you will need to get started on an installation disc that will configure all the programs. There will be no charges for the time you spend on-line apart from the cost of the phone call. They will have a good ratio of modems to users, so that you are always able to get on-line. Fast links to the USA will be part of the service so that you will be able to use all the search programs. A provider might be located in London but can have Points of Presence (telephone access points) all over the country. Make absolutely sure that your provider can be reached by a local call. If you have to make a long distance or even a middle distance call, it will increase your running costs enormously.
The basic network software you will need is TCPIP. This creates the connection between your machine and the Internet. In addition, to look around the Internet world with ease, you will need a browser: Netscape or Mosaic. A browser puts you in touch with search programs and will enable you to bring text and graphics across the world into your own machine. You will also need a program for electronic mail; Eudora and Pegasus are two of the best. Make absolutely sure that you will be supplied with a selection of these programs by the provider, because as a new user you will find it difficult to acquire them.
The modem has to be new. You must, repeat must, go for the highest speed rating of 28,800 rather than 14,400. The faster the information moves, the less time you will be on-line.
The phone line that you use can be the one that you use for phone calls. It should, however, not be connected to security devices and not be a party line. Ideally the computer should be a PC or Macintosh not more than about two years old, with generous space on the hard disc (50mb). If you have an Acorn machine, you should seek their advice (01223 254254). The Internet is colourful, so you need a colour monitor. You can use the Internet on a black and white computer, but it is not easy.
Finally, the first few weeks are the worst. You will be in a strange world and will have much to learn. For weeks you will not be quite sure what is going on. What you will need above all is the phone number of someone who has passed through the Internet pain barrier.
* Service providers:
Demon 0181 371 1234
DialNET 0121 6245050
Internet for Learning (RM) 01235 826000
Pipex 01223 250100
CampusWorld 0345 626253
Edex 0181 296 9201
* The computertelephone line
Do you have a powerful enough machine?
Do you have a phone line near your computer?
Is the line exclusively used for phone calls?
* The modem
Is it suitable for your machine?
Is it fast enough (28,800)?
Is it easy to set up?
Are all the leads supplied?
Are the leads right for your machine?
* Internet provider
Is there installation software which will configure everything for you?
Is the provider operating at 28,800 speed or above?
Does the installation software include all that you need to start?
Do they have software appropriate for your particular machine?
Do they supply TCPIP software to connect to the Internet?
Do they supply a browser?
Can you get on-line when you need to?
Is an e-mail program supplied?
Do they have a point of presence within local call range?
Is there a good helpline?
Is it a censored service?