The Pitfalls of Freenets
Manuel Mejia Jr - 2001.06.18
Periodically, Low End Mac has run articles describing different Internet Service Providers (ISPs). One type of ISP that is often mentioned is the Freenet. These ISPs are usually Unix-based shell computer accounts that are controlled using the Lynx text browser. A Mac can usually access the freenet using a terminal emulation program like Z-Term.
The Freenet is accessible at little or no cost to the computer user. A new subscriber may need to make a donation in order to get an account, but the reward for this is usually a vanity ID. Freenets are the great economic equalizer to accessing the Internet, because machines as basic as a Mac Plus or a PowerBook 100 running a 2400 baud modem can interface with the Freenet. Computer users with very little in terms of economic means can use the Freenet to gain email access or other information off the Internet.
Service at Freenets can also be unpredictable. The Freenet is usually run by volunteers who often have little to no understanding of the past history of that Freenet. There is often high turnover of volunteers. As a result, one volunteer's creative network fix will likely be undone by his or her successors when they try to install or change-out hardware. The Freenets often use hardware that may be as old as the Mac II that some Mac user is using to access the network.
If and when something goes wrong, it could take days, weeks, or even months to fix. My local ISP announced that it was going to upgrade some hardware in May. They noted that all dial-in service would be disrupted for a few days to a week or more. A month later, dial-in service for half of the Freenet's clients is still out. The clients that had service restored cannot always get a connection via modem to the Freenet. As a regular user of my Freenet, I found myself having to submit articles to Low End Mac via floppy disk and the US Postal Service during the month of May.
While my ISP continues to troubleshoot the network, those without dial-in service have been told to go to their public library and access their account using library terminals. This is a most unique way of getting people to visit the local library branch.
Such is life - you get what you pay for.
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