Monday, November 28, 2016

In honor of Cyber Monday, a trip back down Memory Lane, aka the 'Information Superhighway'

A screamin' machine in its day: The Leading Edge Model D. Initially priced at $1,495, it came with dual 5.25" floppy drives, 256 KB of RAM and a monochrome monitor.

In honor of Cyber Monday, when we are all expected to go hog wild online, I did a little digging to excavate the first story I ever wrote about the Internet. It appeared in the Post Register on April 10, 1994. In print.

Back then, we were calling it the "information superhighway." When was the last time you heard that term? Other headlines from that day's edition included, "Authorities say rapes often go unreported" and "Cobain's suicide perplexes local youth."

I think my home computer at the time was a Leading Edge 286, which I got from my brother-in-law in exchange for a microwave oven. It used 5 1/4-inch floppy disks and was handy for balancing my checkbook.

Anyway, here's the report:

GROUP SELLS `ON RAMP' TO INTERNET

Remember that old encyclopedia you had when you were a kid? The one in which Eisenhower was still president and the Piltdown man was still regarded as a revolutionary archaeological find?

OK, you were brilliant and got straight A's in spite of it. But think of how much easier it would have been if you'd had the latest information at your fingertips.

It's the computer age now. Although there's still lots of work to be done on the much-hyped "information superhighway," eastern Idahoans will soon have an easier time of getting linked up to the Internet, the worldwide network on which it's possible to get the latest information on practically anything.

SRVnet, a new non-profit organization based in Idaho Falls, is offering low-cost access to the Internet, access that has been limited until now to universities and government research agencies.

"My children just get on it and cruise," said Nancy Peterson, who is seeking investors and subscribers to help raise the $40,000 the association needs.

There are significant differences between SRVnet and commercial services like Compuserve, Prodigy and America OnLine. The people who run commerical services limit a user's exposure to what they want the user to see -- usually things for which they've been paid. The offer hook-ups to the Internet, but that involves a surcharge on top of the base cost, Peterson said.

With SRVnet, a user pays a set amount for a straight pipeline to the Internet. A "gold membership" costs $240 for two years, giving a user four free hours every month. Silver members pay $120 for one year, involving three free hours a month. Bronze members pay $10 a month for two free hours a month. Extra use in all three cases is billed at $3 an hour.

"If we could get 120 gold members and 120 silver members to sign up, we could begin," Peterson said. "The necessary documents have been filed and the equipment is waiting to be ordered."
If the effort falls through, all money will be refunded, Peterson said.

There will be a one-time charge of $29.95 for software, or users may purchase their own.
It's also essential to get a basic computer setup that can process information fairly fast. Any IBM compatible PC should be at least a 386 with Windows software (the programs will also run on Macintosh.) A regular telephone line will work fine, but the modem's capacity should be 9600 bps or more.

A good modem will cost around $150 to $200, Peterson said. PC prices vary and are coming down all the time. "In the next few years, you're going to see more and more people coming online," she added.

Anyone with children should be particularly interested in getting online with SRVnet, since the service will be very similar to the Internet access public schools will be offering. For business people, the Internet offers a competitive edge, both in gathering and putting out information. It's possible to start a bulletin board on the Internet that allows you to get your message out to anyone who has an interest in what you have to offer, Peterson said.

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