A free-net was originally meant to mean a computer system which provides public access to a large number of resources including community information through text-based dialup. Once registered, users can typically access e-mail
Electronic mail, commonly known as email or e-mail, is a method of exchanging digital messages from an author to one or more recipients. Modern email operates across the Internet or other computer networks. Some early email systems required that the author and the recipient both be online at the...

, Usenet
Usenet is a worldwide distributed Internet discussion system. It developed from the general purpose UUCP architecture of the same name.Duke University graduate students Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis conceived the idea in 1979 and it was established in 1980...

A usenet newsgroup is a repository usually within the Usenet system, for messages posted from many users in different locations. The term may be confusing to some, because it is usually a discussion group. Newsgroups are technically distinct from, but functionally similar to, discussion forums on...

s, chat room
Chat room
The term chat room, or chatroom, is primarily used by mass media to describe any form of synchronous conferencing, occasionally even asynchronous conferencing...

s (typically IRC), telnet
Telnet is a network protocol used on the Internet or local area networks to provide a bidirectional interactive text-oriented communications facility using a virtual terminal connection...

, and often other services.

In 1989 a non-profit organization called the National Public Telecomputing Network (NPTN) was founded to promote the creation of free-nets. It distributed the FreePort software from Case Western Reserve University
Case Western Reserve University
Case Western Reserve University is a private research university located in Cleveland, Ohio, USA...


Unlike most modern ISP
Internet service provider
An Internet service provider is a company that provides access to the Internet. Access ISPs directly connect customers to the Internet using copper wires, wireless or fiber-optic connections. Hosting ISPs lease server space for smaller businesses and host other people servers...

s, free-nets originally provided direct terminal-based dialup instead of PPP
Point-to-Point Protocol
In networking, the Point-to-Point Protocol is a data link protocol commonly used in establishing a direct connection between two networking nodes...

. The increased availability/affordability of PPP dialup connections, and more recently cable
Cable modem
A cable modem is a type of network bridge and modem that provides bi-directional data communication via radio frequency channels on a HFC and RFoG infrastructure. Cable modems are primarily used to deliver broadband Internet access in the form of cable Internet, taking advantage of the high...

 and DSL
Digital Subscriber Line
Digital subscriber line is a family of technologies that provides digital data transmission over the wires of a local telephone network. DSL originally stood for digital subscriber loop. In telecommunications marketing, the term DSL is widely understood to mean Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line ,...

 has largely obsoleted the original free-net community, and so a number of the free-nets, including the original Cleveland Free-Net, have shut down or changed their focus. Free-nets have always been locally governed, so interpretation of their mission to remove barriers to access and provide a forum for community information, as well as services offered, can vary widely. As text-based Internet became less popular, some of the original free-nets have made available PPP dialup and more recently DSL services (as a revenue generating mechanism) with some now transitioning into the community wireless movement
Wireless community network
Wireless community networks or wireless community projects are the organizations that attempt to take a grassroots approach to providing a viable alternative to municipal wireless networks for consumers....


Several free-net systems continue under new mission statements. Rochester Free-Net (Rochester, New York
Rochester, New York
Rochester is a city in Monroe County, New York, south of Lake Ontario in the United States. Known as The World's Image Centre, it was also once known as The Flour City, and more recently as The Flower City...

), for instance, focuses on hosting community service organizations (over 500 to date) as well as seminars about Internet use to the community at no charge.

External links

- A manual on how to create a free-net and also describes the history of community networking.
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