There is a universe of free, valuable information resources on the Internet. What can be costly is the computer and telephone modem, plus the on-line time (often long-distance) needed to retrieve it. A fledgling local service, the Los Angeles Free-Net, will make 'Net resources a local call away for anyone in L.A. County with access to a computer and a modem, whether at home, school or at community locations such as libraries or hospitals. Health, education, job and government information is available to free-net members seven days a week, 24 hours a day. There are scores of public access Free-Nets in the works nationwide, 33 of which serve other cities. The Los Angeles Free-Net officially came on-line seven months ago and is operated by the Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center and the H.O.P.E. (Hope Opportunities Participation Education) Unit Foundation, a cancer support and counseling center. The free-net grew from their interest in using modern technologies to offer the same medical information and support by computer that they provide on a personal basis.
In October, organizers received a $95,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce to provide local calling access to the Los Angeles Free-Net from anywhere in the county. The free-net expects to offer local call service from the 213, 310 and 818 area codes by mid-1995.
Current Services on the Internet offered through the Los Angeles Free-Net
* Los Angeles Public Library Catalog and Library of Congress Catalog
* City of Los Angeles Emergency Information Network
* E-mail from any Internet address worldwide
* "Ask the Doctor" medical questions confidentially answered by physicians
* "Academy One," a national information center for K-12 grade students, schools around the country have collaborated on assignments using real space shuttle mission information available from NASA
* California highway conditions from CalTrans
* Access to bulletin boards and more than 1000 popular Internet newsgroups
Members are encouraged to suggest additional Internet sites to be added to the Free-Net.
HOW IT WILL WORK
1. Local users dial the Los Angeles Free-Net from home, schools, libraries, senior centers, hospitals, clinics and other community locations.
2. Local calls are relayed to switching sites that transfer the calls to the free-net's main computer in the San Fernando Valley.
3. The main computer delivers users' requests and messages out onto the Internet. The system currently runs on a computer with 16 telephone lines. To maximize access members must log-off after each hour of use. Free-Net operators hope to expand telephone capacity to 800 lines over the next three years.
Los Angeles Free-Net Facts
* Annual registration fee: $10
* Number of registered subscribers: 2,817
* Average connect time per use: 16.7 minutes
WHY IS A FREE-NET IMPORTANT TO A COMMUNITY?
"Getting computer information resources can be extremely expensive. Free-Nets make available much of the same or similar material for much less. Today, information is almost like currency when it comes to managing your life. And in a democracy we need to make it available reasonably and in many cases (such as free-nets and public libraries) free. The Los Angeles Free-Net is another package for information, and it's available to people who can't afford home computers and long distance bills to dial in on their own to computer resources. It's is a real work of love and a great public service."
--Celia Carroll, Santa Monica Public Library automation and PEN (public electronic network) coordinator. PEN is the city's electronic mail and conferencing system.
TO GET INVOLVED
Dial up by computer modem to (818) 776-5000. Set modem to eight bits, no parity, one stop bit--the standard settings for connecting to a bulletin board. The free-net supports modem speeds up to 14,400 baud. Or leave a voice message at (818) 954-0080.