Back in the early to mid-1990’s, access to email really was free, though the general Internet was rather expensive. AOL would charge $9.95 US per month for up to five hours in that month (no rollover), and then $2.95 US per additional hour. CompuServe, which – at the time, I preferred over AOHell – was a whopping $12.80 US per hour for basic and $22.80 US per hour for web access. They then generously reduced their cost to just $8 US and $16 US per hour, respectively. My favorite ISP of the time, however, was Prodigy — which was a mere $9.95 US per month for up to five non-rollover hours, then $2.95 US per additional hour. That’s without remembering, of course, that some new providers like MSN were coming out with flat-rate plans. And the best part was that – remember this?!? – Internet access was like old home phone plans. Nights and weekends were cheaper, while business hours were considered “peak times” and would cost more. And that’s not including anything about the speed of your modem and how those rates were considered “premium” rates and were also billed accordingly.
Price didn’t matter, though. I was a teenager without a credit card, and my mother thought the Internet was too dangerous. Thankfully, many of the dial-up ISP’s of the time were all-too willing to offer free trials, and they did a poor job of keeping track of who tried what, when. You couldn’t keep an always-on connection, but if you spread it out among several, you could connect for a good 5-10 hours per week.
Obviously, I’ve seriously digressed here. Far enough from the opening statement of free email, and a universe apart from the title of this rant. Be patient. I’m coming full-circle in a few moments, starting with the free email bit.