NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article
Free Internet Service Providers
by Pat Kennedy, November 99
Pat A Kennedy@aol.com
(click to email author)

You No Longer Have to Pay for Good Internet Access

Free ISP's are proliferating. If you have a computer with a modem but do not have access to the Internet because you don't want to pay the monthly fee or maybe you just don't want a fee billed to your credit card every month, there are very good free Internet Service Providers available if you live in an area where a call to a Fayetteville number is free.

Of the two that I have checked out, NetZero has been around the longest. NetZero will ask you to fill out a form stating your interests, in order to show ads for products in which you may be interested. While you are connected to the Internet using NetZero, a small rectangular ad window will run on your computer. You can place the ad anywhere on the screen you would like, but you cannot hide it. If you do not click on one of their ads within 30 minutes, you may be disconnected unless you respond to a warning message asking whether you want to say online. E-mail is available thru NetZero.

AltaVista is another free Internet Service Provider. It has only been around for a short time but seems to be quite stable. At this writing, they promise to have e-mail available soon. AltaVista places a banner window on your screen containing advertisements and news information of your choice. You can position the banner where you find it least intrusive. They ask you to click on an ad within an hour's time in order to stay connected to the Internet. There is a meter on the window that lets you know how much time you have remaining.

Both providers are striving to improve their service. I have been trying both of them and seldom get a busy signal when dialing in. Sometimes the ads are a little annoying, but that is how they pay for their service. Both ISP's open your Browser to their home page. On my computer NetZero seems to open Internet pages a little faster than AltaVista. I also feel, at the present time, that NetZero is a little more stable. However, AltaVista was easier to install and setup. I generally get connected at 44,000 bps, which is about the same speed I get with a paid service. However, both may seem a bit slower than a paid service provider because of the extra advertisements they send to your computer or for various other reasons. Bandwidth speed tests (http://computingcentral.msn.com/topics/bandwidth/speedtest500.asp) compared to dialing in directly using American Online 5.0 confirm this.

If you already subscribe to AOL and would like to keep it but still save a few bucks a month, you can connect to AOL through either AltaVista or NetZero using the BYOA (Bring Your Own Access) plan. AOL charges $9.95 a month for this plan, contrasted to their regular monthly charge of $21.95 ($19.75 for AARP members). All of these plans are for unlimited access. I have connected to AOL through both NetZero and AltaVista. AOL loads slower than if you dial into it directly.


If you don't already have Internet access, how do you get the software? You will need to access the Internet from a friend's computer, or from a public computer such as at the public library or the Jones Center for Families' Computer room and copy the software to floppy disks.

To get the AltaVista software, at the time of this writing, you have to register at http://www.altavista.com (click on FREE ACCESS-download), choose a username and password, and download the software. Be sure to save your username and password as you will need them to get on the Internet. You will need one (1) blank, IBM- or PC-formatted, 3.5" floppy diskette before you begin. Then install the software on your computer from the floppy. The software will walk you through choosing an access number and connecting to the Internet. Detailed instructions can be found on their site.

To download the NetZero software go to http://www.netzero.com, look for and click on Download NetZero Now! To download the floppy-compatible version of the NetZero software, you will need five (5) blank, IBM- or PC-formatted, 3.5" floppy diskettes before you begin. Install the software and follow onscreen instructions for sign-up and registration. Detailed help is available at their site.

NetZero software can also be purchased for $6.95 by calling 1-888-279-8132 (open 24/7) using your credit card. For check or money orders, mail your request to:

NetZero Inc.
Attn: CD Orders
P.O. Box 3009
Thousand Oaks, CA 91359

On the order be sure to include your first and last name, along with street address, city, state, zip code and phone number (in case they need to contact you by phone). Allow 2 weeks for delivery.


I have only installed and used AltaVista and NetZero, but there are many others from which to choose. If you want to do some research, try the Free ISP Home Page site located at http://nzlist.org/user/freeisp/home.htm.

First, be sure the ISP has a local access number. Many have access numbers in Fayetteville and some also have Bentonville access numbers. Then check the details of the service arrangement. If a large setup fee is required, I don't consider that really free. Paying shipping and handling charges for an installation CD seems reasonable. Some may want your credit card number for identification even though they promise not to charge to it. Realize that free telephone technical support may be limited or unavailable. Find out how much of your screen their ads will use, and whether you can move the ads to where they will be the least intrusive. Check out how long you can stay online without being cut off if you don't click on one of their ads and whether they offer free e-mail accounts. One company, FREE-PC http://www.free-pc.com, will even give you a free Compaq computer with monitor as well as free Internet access and e-mail for watching their ads. There is a long waiting list for these computers so it could take a while. The contract you must sign is professional and straightforward. Please read it carefully and be sure you agree to their terms before you sign up. You do not have to have one of their computers to use their free ISP service.

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