The term free-net was originally intended to refer to a computer system which provided public access to a large number of resources including community information through text-based dialup. Once registered, users could typically access e-mail, Usenet newsgroups, chat rooms (typically IRC), telnet, and, often, other services.
In 1989 a non-profit organization called the National Public Telecomputing Network (NPTN) was founded to promote the creation of free-nets. It distributed the FreePort software developed at Case Western Reserve University.
Unlike most modern ISPs, free-nets originally provided direct terminal-based dialup instead of PPP. The increased availability/affordability of PPP dialup connections, and, more recently, cable, DSL and satellite internet access have made the original free-net community concept obsolete. A number of free-nets, including the original Cleveland Free-Net, have shut down or changed their focus. Free-nets have always been locally governed, so interpretation of their mission to remove barriers to access and provide a forum for community information, as well as services offered, can vary widely. As text-based Internet became less popular, some of the original free-nets have made available PPP dialup and more recently DSL services (as a revenue generating mechanism) with some now transitioning into the community wireless movement.
Several free-net systems continue under new mission statements. Rochester Free-Net (Rochester, New York), for instance, focuses on hosting community service organizations (over 500 to date) as well as seminars about Internet use to the community at no charge.
- The hyphenated word Free-Net is a registered Trademark of the National Public Telecomputing Network. The status of this word as trademark has always been controversial--see Trademark of Free-Net.
- The NPTN Blue Book, 1993 at the Wayback Machine (archived May 8, 2005) - A manual on how to create a free-net and also describes the history of community networking.
- Free Internet access service providers on the Open Directory Project
- Freenets & Community Networks - International list of freenets
- ISPbargains.com - A comprehensive updated list of free dial-up Internet service providers.
- Freedomlist ISP directory