TBT: Dialing Up!

Since President Trump signed an executive order which would greatly expand broadband internet access into rural areas, and I briefly mentioned my experience with dial-up in my previous “Throwback Thursday” entry, I will elaborate on my experiences.

As a kid, I lived in the literal “middle of nowhere” for the first decade of my life until a devastating fire forced us to move. The house we lived in was surrounded on three sides by corn fields, and the nearest town (which had 70 people in it) was located 5 miles away, as the crow flies. The nearest “big towns” were 20-25 miles away (we lived nearly half way between both.)

While many praise rural areas over life in urban areas, as a child I disliked it. While my cousins regularly visited their friends and could walk or bike to school, I couldn’t. While others was just a walk away from the neighborhood park to meet up with their friends, that didn’t exist for me. The nearest public swimming pool was 25 miles away. In addition to all of these “tangible” things, access to the internet was very limited. (Not to mention that my 1993/94 Gateway 2000 probably wouldn’t have supported it without some upgrades.)

The Elementary School Computer Lab… when I visited a couple years ago

My first experience with the internet was in elementary school. Despite being in the “boondocks”, our school’s computer labs were caught up to speed at that time. The old CRT screens and white-box custom PCs running Windows 98 were replaced in first grade with nice, shiny black “Nobilis” PCs that ran Windows XP. They were mated with Acer flat-panel displays – which was awe-inspiring for six-year old me. I can remember I got to use them early on – one of my first experiences with Microsoft PowerPoint (2003) was to make a presentation about the Liberty Bell.

At home, my experiences expanded, as well. After the Gateway 2000 “died” (it got stuck in MS-DOS – which five-year old me nor my computer-illiterate parents could not fix) we replaced it with an HP Pavilion. We got the Pavilion in Christmas 2006, and it ran Windows Vista. (It was probably one of the first PCs to be sold running Vista, as we bought the Pavilion a month before it was released to the general public.) Although we stockpiled some games (mostly educational, although my father bought a steering wheel and flight stick), it felt extremely limited.

These two Nobilis computers are identical to the ones installed in the elementary school computer lab.

After hearing of most of my friends talking about the games they played on the internet (mostly Runescape), I felt like I missed out. Our classroom got one of the old Windows 98-based PCs that were replaced (they only upgraded the server closet and computer lab) and it was fun to get on there and explore the internet.

After much begging, I persuaded my parents to connect the Pavilion to the internet.

Dial-up internet comes with a lot of limitations, which I soon learned and disliked. Since our modem (which was built in to the Pavilion) was connected via a “Y-splitter” to the telephone line, I learned that you could not receive or make calls while connected. This created a small problem: when my mother was expecting a call, or she wanted to call one of her friends, I had to disconnect and wait. I was also expected to unplug the computer completely (including from the AC power) when there was a thunderstorm.

The I-Land Homepage: I-Land was our ISP, and I got to see this page every time I got on the internet. The design has not changed since.

Later, I learned of another limitation: speed. Later, I wanted to install some productivity software to help me in doing homework. It took two whole days (48 hours) to download OpenOffice. During that time, the bandwidth was greatly impacted. Games also worked poorly due to this – and took a while to load. (This is one of the reasons that MIDI files were “all the rage” in the late 1980s and 1990s – they were small file sizes that could be quickly downloaded.)

Third: when I temporarily got the Dell Inspiron laptop (check out the link for my last TBT), I had to run a long (30-foot) telephone cable to connect the Inspiron to the internet. Thankfully, that computer also had a modem.

Around the time I was in the fourth grade, we upgraded to DSL internet. It was much faster, and allowed me to continue to use the internet while the phone was in use. However, around the time the modem was installed the computer started taking forever to boot into Windows (nearly 10 minutes!) The hard drive failed in the Pavilion before we upgraded.

And thus closes my experience with dial-up internet.

This post was inspired by me locating the I-Land homepage. The page design has not changed since I first viewed it back in 2007. The browser the I-Land homepage, as well as the “IE Cannot Display the Webpage” page are being viewed on is Internet Explorer 8 – which is what I was using at the time on the Pavilion after it replaced IE 7. Those pages were displayed on the IBM ThinkPad T42.

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