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As an unapologetic cheapskate I was always searching for really cheap Internet access. Last year the BBS I belonged to started offering free access to it’s members. It cost only $15 per year and members were allowed 1-½ hours of Web access every day. I found another BBS that used the Wildcat system and for a mere $11.00 I was on line for 3 months! There are many BBS’s that offer this service. Check you local area for their phone numbers. A few months ago, the Sysop of one Bulletin Board advised me that since Alta Vista was offering free local dial up access, he would be discontinuing the service.

I went to Alta Vista (www.altavista.com) and downloaded the free access program. The amazing thing about the Alta Vista access is that it is an unlimited 56k connection with a local phone number. Local dial-up is available all over North America. Just as television is free, someone has to pay for the programs, so I agreed to have a small banner displayed above my browser while I surfed the net. The banner displays advertising and the advertisers pay for my access and the opportunity to peddle their wares to me. These banners are about an inch wide. At first it was necessary to click on the banner every 10 minutes to keep the connection alive. Now, the constant clicking is not required. In fact, I need never click an ad. The connection is always good and the dial up number is seldom busy. I am quite pleased, to say the least.

I reasoned that if Alta Vista was doing it, other search engines must be in the market too. Sure enough, Excite (www.excite.com) offers the same service. While all free access services bring you to their home page as your start page, some also show you ads while they’re dialing. Excite’s program opens a small window during the dial up and advertises itself, then runs a banner on your screen. These banners can be parked above or below your browser so that you can maximize your browser in the remaining free space.

Yahoo (www.yahoo.com) shows you real audio/video commercials while it dials. These commercials are for Yahoo or their clients. One is an ad for Tabasco sauce and there are others that keep changing. The ads are loaded into your PC memory after you sign in the first time and they are changed periodically. One advantage of the Yahoo deal is that, as long as you’re in Yahoo, there’s no banner. You never have to click an ad and they disappear as long as you are in Yahoo. So if you use Yahoo mail, calendar, address book etc, like I do, you never see a banner. You can even order a CD from Yahoo with the free access program on it.

Another free provider is I-Freedom (www.ifreedom.com). I freedom offers free access and web storage space. Their marketing system is a little different from the others. For every click on an advertising banner, you get 20 minutes of banner free surfing. When you download their program, you’re also downloading their own small browser. Every 20 minutes, you have a choice of clicking on one of three banners. When you do, their small browser opens, connecting you to the advertiser’s own web site. If you don’t click you lose your connection. The advantage is that during those precious twenty minutes you only have a small rectangular ifreedom banner cluttering up your web space.

The main downside of all these is that, if you’re surfing on a machine with a slow processor (under 100 MHz) you will find that these programs use up valuable memory. Full ISP’s that charge don’t have that memory load to drag and you’ll find that the free systems run a bit slower.

Here are a few other free internet providers:
www.4itall.com/
www.connect4life.com/
www.netzero.net/
www.freei.net/
www.freeisp.co.uk/ (in the UK)
www. freeinternetaccess.freehosting.net/
www.pro-usa.net/
www.freewwweb-access.com/
www.homefreeweb.com/ (in Canada)

You can also find many free www providers by going to any search engine (i.e. Yahoo, Alta Vista etc.) and entering free + internet + access in the search box.
Happy surfing!