How do I get wired?

TO GET connected to the Internet, you need a computer, a modem, a telephone line -- and a deal with an "Internet Service Provider". An ISP allows your modem to dial its modem, which is connected to the Net, and stores your messages for you until you call in to pick them up.

The answer to the question "which ISP is best for a journalist?" is in three parts: which is cheapest; which offers reasonable help, advice and support; and which is most reliable.

GreenNet wins the award for the technical support experience which least resembles the conversation which ensues when you go into a builder's merchant wearing Laura Ashley. Demon Internet had a deeply "tecchy" reputation, but we have had a very good report recently.

Sometimes it takes ages to get through on the phone to support at AOL and Compuserve. Check before signing an agreement that support calls are not charged for.

AOL, Compuserve and GreenNet have all recently had problems with their system overloading so that users cannot connect to their mailboxes or the Web. These problems are being fixed -- your guess is as good as ours who will suffer them next. BT Internet and Pipex Dial have the advantage that their parent companies own big chunks of the phone network and the internet "pipes", respectively.

Here, in alphabetical order, are contact numbers for some ISPs. Some offer you free space to put up Web pages: each * represents 5MB. Those which were offering a month's free trial at the end of March are flagged §. Remember that if you get a "free" email address and give it out to clients, you may have to pay for it for the months until they realise you've moved.

Where one is available, we quote the subscription rate which gives unlimited access -- and the one-time set-up charge where one is quoted on the ISP's website. Some ISPs also offer lower monthly prices if you pay for each minute your modem is connected to theirs. All prices were approximate at time of going to press and include VAT. Bear in mind that the cost of local phone calls to the ISP's modems is likely to be higher than any of these subscriptions.

  • AOL UK **§ £19.92; 0800 376 5432
  • BT Internet * £11.75; 0800 800 001
  • CIX * £17.61 plus 1p/minute over 25 h/month; 0845 355 5050
  • Compuserve *§ £7.64, plus £2.29/hour over 5 h/ month; 0990 000300
  • Demon * set-up £44.06, £11.75; 0181 371 1234
  • GreenNet set-up £29.38, £15.86; 0171-713 1941
  • Pipex Dial § set-up £13.71, £14.98; 0500 474739
  • Poptel (for NUJ and BECTU members, in London Manchester and Kirklees local call areas) set-up £29.38, £9.40; call the Freelance Office for written details.
  • Virgin Net **§ £11.99; 0500 55 88 00

GreenNet offers 5Mb of Web space for a one-time £35.25 set-up fee, and Pipex Dial for £13.51. AOL, CIX, Compuserve and GreenNet all offer "conferences" among their subscribers in addition to internet access.

All services include basic Windows software for connecting to the Net, reading email, browsing the Web and/or fetching further free software from the Net. Mac users should double-check that Mac software is available. Some Mac users will need to obtain a further piece of software called "Mac TCP/IP": the cheapest way is to buy the book The Internet Startup Kit for Macintosh by Adam Engst. If your computer is neither Mac nor Windows, the Freelance recommends you initially to contact CIX, GreenNet or Poptel about "text only" services.

May 1998
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