The Greater Columbus Free-Net, an early Internet tool created by the Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) and The Ohio State University (OSU) in 1994, will cease most of its operations June 30, 2005.
Free-Net was an outreach project of OSC and OSU that promoted information systems and technology use for the enrichment of the Central Ohio community. Free-Net was one of nearly 20 similar entities throughout Ohio deployed in the early and mid-1990s that pre-dated the Internet browser and web revolution. These entities had different approaches about how to provide high-quality, low-cost and user-friendly Internet services, and over time all have shut down.
Free-Net helped people learn how to use the Internet back in the early 1990s when there weren't good graphical interfaces such as Windows 95, Microsoft Network (MSN), Netscape, and before mouse technology. Its services included dial-up Internet connection, email, Usenet news, and web hosting for students, staff and Central Ohio non-profit agencies. At its peak, Free-Net served more than 40,000 users, but today only 300 remain, said OSC Director of Resources and Planning, Steve Gordon, who initiated the Free-Net project in 1994.
"In the current Internet market, we don't have enough customers to pay our on going costs or to set aside sufficient funds to upgrade our equipment to continue providing these services for such a small number of users," said Gordon "Free-Net will continue to sponsor Web services for several Central Ohio non-profit groups and service projects." For more information about Free-Net services, go to www.gcfn.org.
One of the major web-based projects Free-Net will continue is the Community Connection ( http://communityconnection.osu.edu). Developed collaboratively by OSU's Service Learning Initiative, Project Community, and P-12 Project, the Community Connection's main goal is to assist with recruiting, training, placing and supporting students as volunteers in local communities.
But for the 300 remaining Free-Net customers there is an option. A Columbus company, WDY Enterprises LLC (WDYLLC), will continue to provide dial-up, email, and web services at a low cost to former Free-Net users, of which 100 have already converted to WDYLLC.
WDYLLC is a Columbus-based company owned and operated by William Yang, a former OSC engineer who provided the programming environment for Free-Net. Yang said Free-Net bridged the gap in the digital divide by providing an on-ramp to the "Information Superhighway," making it easier for people to understand and use the Internet.
"Free-Net's original educational mission doesn't really with the realities of today's Internet because software designers have made products that are much easier to use and more intuitive," Yang said.
"The Free-Net model was interesting in that each provider was responsible for its own content, but now we're way beyond that," Yang said. "It's no longer cost effective to run Free-Net because the technology, approaches, and needs have changed so much that the service is no longer viable today."
Yang said WDYLLC is committed to ensuring that good quality community-oriented computing and networking services will continue to be available for former Free-Net users and the Central Ohio community, as well as users across Ohio and the US. Former Free-Net users who switch to WDYLLC will see no difference in their ability to log onto the Internet, use email, and surf the web.
WDYLLC offers three types of service to former Free-Net users as well as the general public including: 1) Email service with anti-virus, anti-spam, mail forwarding, Web mail, POP3, and 100MB of guaranteed storage per account for $15 per year, 2) National dial-up at 56K, V-90 to V-92 for $90 per year, 3) Web acceleration that provides a significant boost for web browsing and some email applications for $100 per year. WDYLLC is committed to providing the former Free-Net service through June 30, 2006.
Yang said none of the WDYLLC services will use OSC or OARnet (OSC's networking division) resources. It will all be done using commercial Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Yang said servers have been placed in a co-location facility for email, DNS, web servers and other infrastructural services. The company has also contracted for a dial-up plan through an ISP consolidator that provides access to all national dial-up providers. The consolidator allows even small communities to gain access to the major national dial-up service providers throughout the country.
"I see this as good outreach that fits with the values of my company and our commitment to community service. In the information age it's critical that communities become empowered to build and deploy the resources necessary to solve today's problems.
For more information on WDYLLC services, go to www.wdyllc.com.