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Don't expect your ISP to be a mini-AOL
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology
Simple gray rule

Don't expect your Internet Service Provider to be a mini-AOL

Bit Player for Sept. 6, 1998

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers

Internet Service Providers give you a connection to the Internet. Does it matter what else they provide?

The connections should be as fast as possible and they should work around the clock, without interruption. The ISPs should have reasonably good customer support. And you should be able to put up your own home page, with enough storage for extra pages you might create. But that's all that matters.

This is not the party line. ISPs fall all over themselves trying to get you to choose their services because they offer something special—because they have search pages linked right to their sites, or because they give you "support" for a certain kind of browser, or because they have pages that tell you what's going on around town.

Does this stuff matter? Absolutely not.

The reason is so basic that it's often overlooked, especially by Internet users who have switched from America Online, CompuServe or the Microsoft Network to a standard ISP. AOL, CompuServe and MSN are global communities with hundreds of services just for their own members. That sounds wonderful, and before the Internet became popular it was wonderful, but it's practically meaningless these days. All the services that were once exclusive to the commercial online services are now available on the Internet.

Here's where the confusion enters. When users who enjoyed, for example, AOL's services switch to a standard ISP, the first things they look for are the same kind of services from their new Internet Service Provider. They want a menu right on the home page of the ISP. They want to find all the same stuff right away.

Guess what? It's not there. It can't be. ISPs aren't commercial online services, and they can't afford to do the same thing the commercial services do. Nor should they even try. That's the real point. ISPs should simply get your computer onto the Internet, so that you can do whatever you want to do. The range of services on the Internet is far greater—immensely more varied—than the range of services given by commercial online services. Judging an ISP by the services offered by a commercial online service is pointless.

If you think of an ISP as an onramp to the Internet, you can think of a commercial service such as AOL as a sort of giant amusement park between you and that onramp. You pay to get into that amusement park and find all sorts of things to do. And one thing you can do, of course, is go out a gate at the other end of the park that takes you onto the Internet, after you line up behind 10 million other amusement park users who all want to do the same thing.

That amusement park just slows you down if all you want to do is get onto the Internet. If what you really want are the services offered by the commercial online service, then stay in the amusement park and enjoy it. If what you want is the almost limitless range of services on the Internet, skip the park and get onto the Net through an ISP.

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