Re: fidonet (fwd)

John W. Hoopes (jhoopes@CARIARI.UCR.AC.CR)
Tue, 17 Oct 1995 18:06:25 -0600

'Net connections for the masses...

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 5 Mar 1995 10:10:03 -0500
Reply-To: Education Policy Analysis Forum <EDPOLYAN@ASUACAD.BITNET>
Sender: Education Policy Analysis Forum <EDPOLYAN@ASUACAD.BITNET>
From: Jack Crawford <jcc@ARUBA.NYSAES.CORNELL.EDU>
Subject: Dirt Cheap Gateway
To: Multiple recipients of list EDPOLYAN <EDPOLYAN@ASUACAD>

(Please disseminate widely)


(c) February 24, 1995 by Jack Crawford
Wayne-Finger Lakes Area Teacher Resource Center
FIDOnet 1:260/620

There's a grassroots movement throughout the world that is quietly
empowering "have not" rural communities by introducing them to the
"global village" of international telecommunications on a local
phone call with no fees . Conspicuously absent from this is the
inherent exploitativeness of commercial environments or the taxpayer
burden of the "too-much-government" cost-ineffectiveness of
centralized technocracies.

Rural citizens, as a group, tend to remain unaware of the richness
of telecommunications-based activites and resources the big cities
enjoy because they are "long distance to the rest of the civilized
world". While fee-based online resources have been available to
rural folks for years, few seem to make much use of them. Whenever a
rural person is online, the "meter is running". The result is that
use of commercial and real-time Internet services is kept to an
absolute minimum. In most cases, that means no use at all. Rural
people are just not in the "habit" of using online resources as a

The "toll booths" on the Information Highway turn rural people off
to telecommunications!

As a result of these factors, rural educators, students and
community members tend to have little or no initial experience with,
or even a working concept of, the online world. Most often they just
plain don't understand the critcal importance of becoming involved
with telecommunications in the first place and, therefore, are
unable to self-justify the significant costs of using of online
resources in their everyday lives. They are "out of the loop". They
need a place to start--something to "whet their appe tites" that
will allow them to spend hours and hours exploring the Net--and do
it very cheaply, if not for free! Rural people are beginning to
discover the unique advantages and affordability of FIDOnet BBS's,
not as as alternative to pay-for services, but as a starting point
toward them.

As of February, 1995, FIDOnet is a worldwide community of nearly
35,000 inter-networked, yet independantly owned, operated and funded
electronic Bulletin Board Systems or "BBS's". (Five years ago there
were only 6,000!) Roughly half of these are in the United
States--that's slightly more than one for every one of the 14,000 or
so school districts in the country. Any medium-sized rural town in
the U.S. probably has at least one FIDOnet BBS that is open to the
general public with no fees. This is a non-commercial environment
that has been aptly described as "militantly free", both in terms of
cost and spirit. There are few "toll booths"! FIDOnet is a
community that is soley regulated by market forces. It is not an
"organization" nor is it subject to the fickleness, ineffficencies
or political agendas of any government, bureacracy or centralized
funding source. FIDOnet is not encumbered by technocracy. Maybe this
is why it works so well....

FIDOnet's store-and-forward technology has evolved through many
generations of incessant, international tinkering in the last ten
years to become surprizingly sophisticated yet still amazingly
affordable. The equipment, budget and technical expertise required
to set up and maintain a FIDOnet BBS capable of serving the
students, teachers and taxpayers of a rural community is usually
well within the range of any school district with a bit of resolve.
Startup costs, including software, modem and a brand new computer,
can easily be below $1,300 in the U.S and much cheaper if used
equipment is available! Technical and training expertise is
developed locally to meet the needs of local people and can provide
rural students with career-track experience pointing directly to the
telecommunications industry. The school and it's community learn
"how to fish" rather than being "fed a fish for the day"... Note,
too, that the bulk of the intial expense goes to tangible assets
such as computers and software rather than consumable services.
Telephone lines needed are inexpensive voice grade and costs for
substantial network content to serve the entire community, even if
obtained overlong distance, is similar to that of a few postage
stamps per day. It just doesn't get any cheaper than this...
In addition to providing the ability to send private "email" letters
between anyone on a FIDOnet BBS or the Internet, there are also
literally thousands of one-to-many public conferences available.
These allow people to publicly discuss, debate or ask questions
about the things that matter to them with other people all over the
world. The nature of these conferences may be very broad in scope
such as "politics" or "cooking" or can be narrowly defined to such
topics as "beekeeping", "quilting", issues involv ing church &
state, etc. An "article" posted in a conference will be "echoed",
without editing or censorship, to every other BBS on earth that is
carrying it where anyone may read and respond to it. This is like a
neural net which spans the planet, providing a place for a "meeting
of the minds" that is not limited by distance or time... and is
freely accessible to the general public on a local phone call! This
is the last real bastion of free press!

Graphical and multi-media interfaces, multi-gigabyte harddrives and
multi-disc CD-ROM drives on many FIDO BBS's make massive file
resources available in an environment that is attractive, easy to
use and available on a local phone call. FIDOnet technology is also
quite at home with satellite distribution as well as the gating of
USEnet newsgroups and Internet email. FIDO BBS system software is
usually dirt cheap if not free and can be surprizingly adept at
dealing with multiple phoneline and local area netw ork

Approximately 600 FIDO BBS's worldwide also carry the K12Net feed
which provides content directly oriented to elementary and secondary
school curriculum and student use. (There are over 100 K12Net BBS's
in New Zealand, alone!) Most of the three dozen K12Net conference
areas, which cover the the traditional curriculum areas and provide
vehicles for teacher-designed international classroom projects, are
also gated to the Internet as the k12.* hierarchy. Some schools use
a "sneaker net" approach to allow the ir students to interact in
email and conferences in classrooms without phonelines or modems
using offline mail readers. (Lack of phone lines in the classrooms
and the prospect of sizeable phone bills are the single biggest
barrier to any kind of telecom in schools!!!)

As rural schools are usually at the geographic center of activities
for their local communities, they are probably the most logical
organization to house, operate and provide institutional credibility
to a FIDO/K12Net BBS to serve that community. BBS's operated by a
rural school can provide a valuable public service that helps to
promote further understanding, collaboration and support between
schools and their communities. Schools which set up and operate
their own FIDO/K12Net BBS's develop their own in-ho use base of
technical and training expertise. They learn how to "fish to feed
themselves" rather than being "fed a fish for the day".

I have set up and provide technical support to over a dozen
FIDO/K12Net BBS's in schools within an hour's drive from where I
live out here in a rural area of western New York State
characterized by cow pastures, cornfields and long distance phone
bills. The demand for them is growing steadily, probably because
schools are finding that setup and operational costs are so low
that funding is simply not an issue in many cases. My observation
is that their use is helping to build a base of community advocacy
for greater telecom capabilities. For the first time, rural
students, teachers and taxpayers can now spend *hours* exploring
the online worlds of email, newsgroups and file libraries without
running up a phone bill or blowing their VISA cards or classroom
budgets into oblivion or placing a burden on their taxpayers. They
finally have a reason to buy one of those "modem-thingies" and to
support funding for even greater telecom capabilites in their
schools. (This lack of advocacy is a very important, though often
overlooked or underestimated aspect of getting people involved with
telecom, particularly in schools.) People first need to learn how
to ride a bicycle before you can expect them to want...or be
willing to pay for a Harley! Those that have been logging onto our
FIDO/K12Net BBS's are beginning learn how to "ride"...

FIDO/K12Net may not be have the Web-wonder or gopher-glitter of the
real-time Internet or commercial services but it is far more
affordable and accessible to the average rural neophyte modem user
at home or in school. It is also vastly less intiimidating. It is
introductory telecom for the rural masses that can provide more
"bang for the buck" than any other technology. Period! And, overall,
it really does a pretty good job with email, conferencing and file
libraries which are the real "meat and potatoes" of online use in
the first place. It is the "bicycle path" next to the information
highway... It is a sensible way for the "have-nots" of the world to
start learning how to "ride a bicycle" so that, some day soon,
they'll want a "Harley"...

Jack Crawford, Wayne-Finger Lakes Area Teacher Resource Center, 703
E. Maple, 10 Eisenhower Hall, Newark, NY, 14513-1863. Voice:
315/331-1584, fax: 315/331-1587, Email: FIDOnet 1:260/620, or

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