What is a Free-Net?

The Naples Free-Net is part of a much larger global family. Over 200 free-nets or community networks are presently established around the world. More are added each year. Each free-net or community network is different. Different free-nets offer varied services, methods of accessing their site and types and levels of support.

The first free-net was established in Cleveland, Ohio in 1986. This was during the time when the U.S. Department of Defense, their contractors, and universities were primary users of the Internet to communicate via computer and modems. The information in the internet then was all text based and required unique and complicated (by today’s standards) commands.

The organizers of the Cleveland Free-Net received federal funds to establish the National Public Telecomputing Network (NPTN). Once established, NPTN staff helped to take the Internet to rural communities, acted as a center for information for free-nets organizing around the world and ran list serves linking and connecting people from around the globe. During that time Finland networked the entire country and Florida’s first free-net was established in Tallahassee in May 1993. Seeing the value of global access to electronic information, the federal government, in 1993, mandated all government agencies and offices provide their information electronically.

In late 1994 Mosaic software (the first web browser) was developed and the transmission of pictures and graphics began rapidly to affect all areas of the internet community. The Naples Free-Net was able to find volunteers who wanted to experiment with and learn this new technology. Because of the contributions of these volunteers the Naples Free-Net was one of the first community networks to open as a World Wide Web based site using the emerging graphic user interface.

Local libraries or university and college computer departments provide the primary financial support for the majority of community networks. However, the Naples Free-Net is unique in that it is supported solely through the donations of its members, efforts of local businesses and everyday citizens who have an interest in seeing this concept survive.

Revised 1/2/04

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