The FAQ was last updated on 22 September 1998
If you're just thinking about being an ISP, and you don't really know if this is the business for you, check out my advice for new ISPs at http://www.amazing.com/internet/advice.html.
I now work for Freelink Communications, an ISP that now offers free advertising-based Internet access. You can visit us at http://www.freelink.net.
If you need a web site designed, please visit my web design page at http://www.amazing.com/new. If you want to roll your own, you may also be interested in my web design FAQ at http://www.amazing.com/web-faq.
Before I got my own connectivity, Avi Freedman of Net Access of Philadelphia was very generous in bailing me out when I was short on connectivity. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank him for standing by me. Check out what he has to offer at http://www.netaxs.com/.
Yes, this is where we meet the traffic cops and maintenance people of the Information Superhighway, as they begin to make their first struggling appearances. They all have their idea of what the net is to be; about all they have in common is that they know it will be different from the way it is today.
You can have many reasons for wanting to check out this FAQ. Perhaps you wanted to be an Internet provider from the day you were born, or maybe you're just curious to find out what it may be like. In any case, hello, and welcome to our world! This FAQ's for you, and I give a warm welcome to any comments and additions you may have. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org
So you'll hear a lot about shell accounts and BBSs. I'll tell you right here and now that this information is largely obsolete; now, everyone's using graphical SLIP/PPP accounts off Windows or Macintosh systems. I've left the material in because I hate to eliminate anything that might be of interest to someone, somewhere. But, despite what I tell you elsewhere (in sections written many years back), the BBS and shell account business is no longer a viable one. Shed a tear for it. I did, since in many ways I liked it better; there was more room for individual creativity and thought.
I went over the FAQ in considerable detail on June 2, 1997. There are new sections everywhere - I've brushed up information on Suns, improved the SGI section a great deal, added some more information on NT. I've also finally revised my "totally cheap" perspective to include information on the new access servers and 56k "standards" that have taken the modem market by storm.
My Unix mailer cannot digest these messages without a great deal of additional trouble, so please make sure that you use a text editor that can break lines at 80 columns or less (75 is a good number to use as a general rule). The easiest way to do this is to send your messages using a Unix Shell account with any of the standard text editors available. I realize, however, that this advice may seem too old-fashioned for the more enlightened and progressive among you.
If you don't have Shell access, or if you cannot bear the thought of using Unix [tm], either:
- Press [enter] at the end of each 80-column line as you are typing in your message
- Verify that your program DOES create [return]s at the end of lines.
Spry's AIR Mail program seems to be particulary bad in this regard; I recommend that, if you must use Windows [tm] for some reason, you use Eudora instead.
Microsoft Exchange under Windows95 is an absolutely horrid program that automatically generates obnoxious "rich text format" versions of each message you send, unless you explicitly turn it off. If you must send me mail using Exchange, please make sure those are turned off. Because their quoting conventions make text appear in a different font, and not prefixed with special characters, it is very difficult to follow a quoted message using Exchange. It's also best to switch off MIME format for messages sent to me, since doing so make it easier for me to read them.
In reality, of course, the best thing to do about Exchange is to discard it and use Eudora or any other available mail client. Trust me on this one.
I also have a great deal of difficulty reading mail with attachments, whether MS-TNEF (ugh!) or HTML. So please do not use MIME attachments if you can possibly avoid doing so; they'll make it harder for me to read your message, and therefore less likely to reply.
I'd really like to make the FAQ look better, by adding HTML formatting and such to it, but I can't do that easily as long as it remains available in text format.
Does anyone lack the ability to read HTML nowadays? Drop me a line and let me know if this change would affect you negatively.
David Buys a Router [ http://www.amazing.com/internet/router.html]. In this gripping episode, we see our intrepid hero David Dennis visit the repair depots of the Information Superhighway in search of a router. Does he ever find one? Stay tuned. [Updated 16 November 1995; someone asked me for the brand and model of the router, so I added it]
David gets an Internet Connection [ http://www.amazing.com/internet/connection.html] At long last, David gets a 56k Internet connection. Read all about it! [Updated 28 August 1995]
Section 10.5, Accounting and Billing Practices, now contains a comprehensive list of URLs to billing packages, as well as the detailed commentary I've previously developed. There sure are a lot of them, but unfortunately, virtually no information is included on most. Note that I do not sponsor or endorse any of these packages; I am providing the information because of a very high level of interest. [Updated 12 September 1997]
Many, many sections were heavily revised and edited on 2 July 1997. About time, eh? A new history of Net-99 has been added, for the history buffs among us. I've added a nascent section on personnel. For the first time, Access Servers are now discussed in depth.
Section 4.2, How do things pencil out? Some reasonably hard numbers, has been updated to reflect current pricing for T1 connections - and beyond. [28 September 1996].
Section 6.3, What about competition in local phone service?, has been added with information about Metropolitan Fiber Systems (MFS). Should you open your new business in a glossy downtown high-rise building? It might be your most cost-effective solution! [28 September 1996].
A new FAQ has been born, on running a web presence provider. Since it's brand new, you may want to study it and then return to this one for some of the details. You can access it at http://cgi.amazing.com/web-faq/
Section 10.7, Making the Internet more User-Friendly has been changed to include information on the pros and cons of supplying Microsoft Internet Explorer instead of Netscape [Updated 7 & 15 August 1996].
Section 5.4, Microsoft and AT&T, the Terrible Two, has had a name change; I previously mentioned IBM as a major threat, but it seems to have virtually vanished from the Internet map. I also bring you up to date on the Microsoft Network challenge, which also appears to be fading. [5 May 1996].
Section 9.2, Which News Software should I run?, has been updated with information about DNEWS, an intriguing alternative to INN. [5 May 1996].
Section 4.2, How do things pencil out? Some reasonably hard numbers, has been updated with more information on International rates. [5 May 1996].
Section 6.5, PCs running BSDI Unix, has once again been updated. BSDI users have fought back and responded to some of the bad-mouthing I'd added to previous versions of the FAQ. The complaints appear to be isolated incidents and not a major trend. [20 February 1996].
Section 15.0, Wanton Women and Straightlaced Crusaders, has been updated with fresh information on the copyright issue. [30 January 1996].
Section 18.0, Glossary, has been given a much-needed facelift with a bunch of important updates. [30 January 1996].
Another update to section 7.5, Who are the main national providers, and how much?, with some good news for ISPs. Net Access is going national. In addition, ANS, a corporate-oriented ISP known for first-class service, has finally lowered its prices to realistic levels. [Last updated 20 June 1997]
I've added Section 7.6, What happened to Net-99/AGIS?, with detailed information on the rise and fall of this now-beleagured company. This section includes information about the legendary Spam King, Sanford Wallace. [Created 20 June 1997]
The Internet and Windows NT: A summary of opinions. Should you consider this operating system as your next network server, or should you stick with the tried and true SunOS or BSDI? A satisfied NT user saw my earlier remarks, and replies. Oh-oh! There is now more information from an NT user and opponent, who brings us up to speed on problems with the Netscape Commerce Server under NT. More on this debate in Section 6.11, What about Microsoft Windows NT? [Updated 22 January 1996]
I've created section 10.10, How has Windows95 changed the SLIP/PPP Picture. This will tell you much of what you need to know about Windows95 and its PPP implementation. Much to my surprise, it's not bad. The rest of the product has its problems, but PPP under Windows95 is a quantum leap past the horrors of Trumpet Winsock and friends. [Updated 6 December 1995].
For a couple of different views on setting up virtual domains, check out my Internet Resources page at a http://www.amazing.com/internet/.
Section 6.7, PCs Running FreeBSD, has been added to suggest another interesting operating system for ISPs. It has an excellent pedigree; how does it compare to Linux or other options? This section has been newly updated with Free BSD ISP mailing list information [Updated 1 October 1995].
I've added a very brief description of Firewalls in section 8.4, Firewalls. [Updated 18 July 1995].
I have significantly improved my section on Web browsers and servers, starting with section 9.9, What about Running a World Wide Web Server? This includes information on running a multi-homed web server (aka http://www.bigco.com/[Note: That's a generic example, not a real link]) and comments on the Netscape extensions. [Updated 15 July 1995]
Should you bother starting a provider with a 56k line? Maybe there's more hope than I would have thought, at least if the price is right. Check out Section 4.4, New Information on the Viability of a 56k line. [Updated 10 June 1995]
Section 6.16, Care and Feeding of Disk Drives, has been started with a summary of the discussion on inet-access of overheating disk drives and what to do about them. Read this section so you don't need to feed your Barracuda to the fish! [Updated 29 May 1995]
Ever been curious about Silicon Graphics, the super-upscale maker of fine workstations for graphic artists and their friends? Our spies snuck a peek at their Top Secret price list, and found that they're not as expensive as you might think. Check out Section 6.4, Silicon Graphics (SGI) Workstations.
Any discussion of what's new with the Internet has to begin with Microsoft's announcement of the Microsoft Network, the new kid in the online service block. With their announcement of $ 4.95 a month access, they have thrown down the competitive gauntlet in a spectacular way. Check out our news analysis in Section 5.4, Microsoft and IBM, the Terrible Two.
To Netra or not to Netra: That is the question! Section 6.17, All About the Sun Netra, tells you more than you ever wanted to know about this vital issue. Don't be deceived!
Our FAQ maintainer decides to take the plunge and buy a Sun clone system. Unfortunately, thanks to a stubborn connectivity provider who just won't let loose an extra IP number, he hasn't managed to connect it to the net. He loves his Sun, especially with the 21" NEC "Professional Series" monitor he bought for it. But it has yet to be thrown into battle. Stay tuned.
Our FAQ maintainer becomes horribly snobbish and spends more money than he should. Section 6.20, What sort of monitor should I get with my Sun? tells you what he did and why.
The FAQ is updated on a somewhat occasional basis, about once every month or two. Visit the site and read in this page to find the last time it was updated.
If you've been given a copy of the text version of this FAQ, you can see the latest edition in HTML by pointing your WWW browser to http://www.amazing.com/internet/faq.html. If you want to make a printout of the FAQ, a text version is available at http://www.amazing.com/internet/faq.txt. I would like to suggest that you visit the main site at least once, because the FAQ is only one of many interesting offerings we have.
For details, please visit my commercial URL at http://www.amazing.com/new/.
1.0 Major Contributers to the FAQ
3.0 What about business organization and raising money?
4.0 What sorts of returns can I expect making as an ISP?
5.0 The Big-Time Competition: Should you worry?
7.0 Hooking up to the Internet
8.0 Should I join an Internet Trade Association?
9.0 Personnel and Hiring
10.0 Internet Software tips, tricks and answers
11.0 What about Fees, Terms and Conditions?
12.0 What sorts of technical problems should I expect?
13.0 Who needs and wants Internet Services? How can we reach them?
14.0 Internet Marketing
15.0 Now that I have users, how should I deal with them?
16.0 Wanton Women and Straightlaced Crusaders: Pornography on the Net
17.0 Legal Issues
18.0 Books and other Resources
19.0 Glossary of Common Terms and Acronyms