Your Internet Consultant - The FAQs of Life Online

2.7. What commercial online services offer Internet access?

CompuServe, MCI Mail, and GEnie users can send and receive e-mail via the Internet but lack other tools. If you'll only use the Internet for electronic mail, you can choose any commercial service, and you'll be able to send and receive mail to your heart's content. But the Internet is much more than e-mail. If you use a service whose only offering is electronic mail, you are missing out on the wealth of good stuff on the Internet. (One commercial service launched a huge advertising campaign promising Internet access, but new users were disappointed to discover that e-mail was the only Internet service actually offered)

America Online (at the time of writing) offers e-mail and Usenet newsgroups, with plans to add Gopher access. The standouts that offer complete Internet access are Delphi and BIX (which are actually owned by the same company) and the Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link.


Delphi was the first nationwide service to provide full Internet access, including electronic mail, Usenet newsgroups, FTP, and Telnet. Delphi uses a decent text-based, menu-driven system. It's a little funky, but it works well enough with the basic Internet tools. The prices are fair, and after an extensive marketing blitz promoting its Internet access, Delphi seems to have made a real niche for itself.

Here are the costs, but keep in mind that they may have changed by the time you read this. (Indeed, they may change by the time I'm finished typing this paragraph.) Delphi has two membership plans: the "10/4" plan costs $10 per month and includes four hours of use; additional use is $4 per hour. The "20/20 Advantage" plan is $20 per month, includes 20 hours of use and costs $1.80 per hour for additional time. The Internet service option costs an extra $3 per month. There may be a one-time startup fee, depending on the service plan you choose.

Delphi access during business hours via Sprintnet or Tymnet carries an additional surcharge. Through a trial membership offer, anyone interested in trying Delphi and the Internet can receive five hours of access for free. To join, dial 800-365-4636 by modem. After connecting, press Return. At the "Username:" prompt, enter JOINDELPHI and at the password prompt, type INTERNET. If you have questions, call Delphi's voice information line at (800) 695-4005.


Byte Information Exchange (BIX) offers full access to the Internet, allowing users to use FTP, Telnet, electronic mail, and other Internet tools. I haven't tried this service, but I get the feeling that for some reason, BIX has always been an underdog amongst online services. This doesn't seem to have changed much since they started offering full Net access. BIX helps the Internet novice along by enlisting the aid of "tour guides" standing by to answer questions about navigating the Net. The service is also home to local conferences, news, and entertainment. BIX is a primarily text-based, menu driven system, but you can overlay that with custom "navigation" software that lets BIX put on a more graphical face.

Current charges for BIX are $13 each month, plus connect charges of $3/hr for non-primetime use. BIX also offers a "20/20" plan--20 hours of evening and weekend service for $20 a month. For more information, call the voice information line at (800) 695-4775.


The Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link, or WELL, is one of the best-known California computing services. I hesitate to lump the WELL, a homey electronic community, in the commercial service category with huge megalopolis services like CompuServe, but the WELL meets the criteria of a nationally-available, full-featured commercial service. Besides being a world-famous coffee-house built o' electrons, the WELL offers the full selection of Internet services, plus its famous local conferences. However, its text-based command-line interface is among the funkiest to learn to use. Luckily, there's an hour-long interactive tour to help you get familiar with the system.

The WELL costs $15 a month plus $2 an hour. Long-distance usage through the CompuServe Packet Network, (a packet-switching service), costs an additional $4 per hour. To sign up online, dial (415) 332-6106 and log in as newuser. Callers from out of the area may wish to use the packet network: call (800) 848-8980 to find the nearest CPN number, call that number, and enter WELL at the prompt. The WELL's voice information line is (415) 332-4335.

Here is a sampling of the world of the WELL:

This is the WELL

Type   newuser   to sign up.
Type   trouble   if you are having trouble logging in.
Type   guest     to learn about the WELL.
If you already have a WELL account, type your username.

login: savetz
Last login: Sat Feb  5 18:32:34 from
Sun Microsystems Inc. SunOS 5.3       Generic September 1993

You own your own words. This means that you are responsible for the words
that you post on the WELL and that reproduction of those words without
your permission in any medium outside of the WELL's conferencing system
may be challenged by you, the author.

You have new mail.
PicoSpan T3.3k; designed by Marcus Watts
 copyright 1984 NETI; licensed by Unicon Inc.

OK (type a command or type  opt  for Options): mail
Mail version 5.2d (word-wrap) 9/22/91. Type ? for help.
"/home/s/a/savetz/.inbox": 5 messages 5 new
>N  1 support  Fri Feb  4 14:55  72/2648 "WELLcome to The WELL!"
 N  2 sdf      Sat Feb  5 12:52  14/423 "Welcome"
 N  3 support  Fri Feb 11 02:25  43/1781 "You're invited"
 N  4 Wed Feb 16 03:59  86/2911 "Spring CyberSpace Community,
 N  5 support  Fri Feb 18 02:05  43/1786 "You're invited....."

OK (type a command or type  opt  for Options): confs



           1 - Conferences on Social Responsibility and Politics (1K)
           2 - Media and Communications (1K)
           3 - Magazines, Publications and Zines (1K)
           4 - Business and Livelihood (1K)
           5 - Body, Mind, Health (1K)
           6 - Cultures and Languages (1K)
           7 - Of Place and Places (1K)
           8 - Interactions (1K)
           9 - Arts and Letters (1K)
          10 - Recreation (1K)
          11 - Entertainment (1K)
          12 - Education, Science and Planning (1K)
          13 - Grateful Dead (1K)
          14 - Computers (1K)
          15 - Conferences About The WELL, Itself (1K)
          16 - Private Conferences (2K)
          17 - Print Out All 200+ Conferences (11K)

America Online

Commercial online services are changing what it means to use the Internet. For instance, America Online threatens to bring easy-to-use, graphical Internet access to the masses. I say threatens to because from where I sit, they haven't done it yet. America Online offers electronic mail to the Internet as well as Usenet newsgroups. Gopher, FTP and other goodies that may or may not be available by the time you read this. They've been very slow to deliver so far, so I can't tell you if most of these services will work well. America Online runs on Macintosh and IBM-compatible computers and is easy to learn and navigate. The point-and-click interface is certainly easier to learn than the command-line interface on Delphi, BIX, and public access UNIX providers.


Figure 2.2. America Online offers Internet e-mail and Usenet newsgroups through a benevolent graphical interface.

AOL costs $9.95 a month for 5 hours of use, any time of day. Additional time is billed at $3.50 per hour. There is no surcharge for connection through Tymnet and Sprintnet--happy happy, joy joy. For more information, call AOL's voice information line at (800) 827-6364.

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