Perhaps you've given America Online or CompuServe a try for a few hours. After all, they did send you a free disk, maybe several dozen of them. And perhaps you've decided that while the slick graphics and ease of use were appealing at first, what you really want is to dive head-first into the Internet without any commercial service's colorful "front-end" software in your way.
You're ready to face all of those acronyms (well, some of them, anyway), you're ready to hassle with making your computer "Internet-ready." And you're itching to explore the World Wide Web unfettered. If this description fits you, you're going to need to find an ISP.
An ISP, or Internet Service Provider, is an organization or company that has a high-speed connection to the Internet and, for a fee, allows businesses, schools, communities, or individual users to share that connection. ISPs can typically provide a variety of services, including simple dial-up accounts, high-speed dedicated Internet connections, Web page development, consulting and other services.
When you purchase an individual dial-up account (usually about $20 per month), you get an electronic mail address, a little bit of file storage space to hold your e-mail and software that allows you to connect your microcomputer to the Internet via a modem and phone line. Most ISPs will also provide dial-up users with the ability to create a home page for the Web.
A larger organization, say, a business or a school, can purchase a higher-speed dedicated connection that is up all the time. Dedicated connections to the Internet cost anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars per month, depending on the speed of the connection. There is usually an additional cost for the specialized equipment that is required to support such a connection.
Lists of ISPs are available on the World Wide Web (see the Yahoo! index, for example) and in computer and Internet periodicals. Boardwatch magazine, for example, recently published a large directory of ISPs that comes free with a subscription to the magazine. An online version is also available at http://www.boardwatch.com/isp/index.htm.
There are at least 25 ISPs in Kansas, located mostly in the larger urban areas, although some provide local-call dial-up service to many smaller communities across the state. In Lawrence there are two ISPs that provide dial-up access to the Internet -- Internet Direct, 841-2220; and Internet Kansas, 842-9996. The Kansas Research and Education Network is also headquartered in Lawrence, but KANREN is a nonprofit consortium of educational institutions that provides dedicated connections only, primarily to colleges, universities and school districts.
An ISP need not have offices in a particular community to provide local-call dial-up access to that community. For example, Topeka-based CJNetWorks (887-8013) and Kansas City-based Tyrell Corporation (816-459-7584) offer local-call access in Lawrence as well. This is not necessarily an exhaustive list; this industry changes and grows rapidly, and there may be other ISPs that serve the Lawrence area.
Kansas University students, faculty, or staff can obtain low-cost access to the Internet through KU's Academic Computing Services. E-mail accounts are available at no charge to KU students, faculty or staff, and dial-up accounts are available for an annual fee. Stop in at the Computer Center at Sunnyside and Illinois during business hours for information or to obtain accounts, or call ACS at 864-0100.
Which provider should you choose? That's a fair question, and I'm afraid I don't have a good answer. Here's some advice I have offered in the past: Ask around. Find someone who uses a dial-up connection to the Internet and ask them about the ISP they use. Is the customer service good? How often do you get busy signals when you attempt to dial in? Does the connection seem to be reliable? How much does it cost?
If you can get access to the World Wide Web, or if you can talk a friend into letting you watch while they surf, you may wish to take a look at a document, "A Fast Guide to Choosing an ISP" (http://www.netpart.com/news/articles/choosing.html). This document explains a few important things to watch for when shopping for an Internet connection.
-- Doug Heacock is director of the Kansas Research and Educational Network at Kansas University. You may address questions to him in care of the Lawrence Journal-World, 609 N.H., Lawrence 66044, or e-mail him at heacock