6.5 The Internet

The Internet is a network of networks that links millions of computers around the world, using telephone lines. The networks are linked together so that they appear as a single network to the user.

A computer linked to the Internet can provide access to a wide range of services, including e-mail, viewing organisations’ websites on the ‘World Wide Web’, taking part in discussion groups, accessing on-line databases, reading electronic newsletters and journals, and viewing video clips. The Internet is about people communicating and sharing information.

The services that are available depend on the type of connection to the Internet. A ‘direct connection’ or ‘full access’ provides access to all Internet services. An ‘indirect connection’ provides access to only some services, most commonly e-mail. It does not support graphics or provide easy access to the World Wide Web. However, services are becoming available that make it possible to access web pages via e-mail (see Section 6.7.5).

Access to the Internet requires:

An Internet service provider is a company that provides the connection between the computer and the whole Internet network. When choosing an Internet service provider, there may be little or no option in some places. If there is a choice, it is useful to ask:

  • What is the immediate connection charge?
  • What are the on-going subscription charges and on-line telephone charges?
  • What communications software is provided and at what cost?
  • What technical support and training is provided and at what cost?

It is also worth asking local organisations which service provider they use and how they rate them.

The necessary communications software is often supplied by the service provider – sometimes free of charge – along with support in setting up and using it. It is best to talk to the service provider to decide which software to use. The software required for using e-mail and Internet services is developing rapidly and becoming much easier to use.

Some users, particularly in developing countries, do not have full Internet access because the cost of accessing files on the Internet can be high, telephones can be unreliable, and a greater capacity computer is needed. The Internet service provider can help to decide on the most suitable type of connection.