The Milwaukee Omnifest was a community resource with much the same goals as a Free-Net. Neil Trilling was the director.
Omnifest provided free Internet access for elementary and secondary school teachers, UW-Milwaukee Alumni Association members, and librarians before opening to the public. The prototype started at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee WI USA, the City of Festivals.
The program was well accepted and opened to the public in September 1994. It evolved into an outreach program of the UW Extension as the Center for Community Computing.
Omnifest closed due to a number of factors on March 31, 1998.
Affordable access to an on-line community
Prior to the widespread availability of Internet access, personal computers employed dialup access to servers, many of which were local bulletin boards.
Milwaukee Omnifest was one of the first dial-up Internet services available to the public via a local Milwaukee phone number. The modem pool was located at UW-Milwaukee, then later ExecPC made their excess modem pool capacity available during weekdays. Once logged into the modem pool, users could browse Omnifest text-only menus and bulletin boards maintained by volunteers. Members had E-mail and could subscribe to news groups. Omnifest hosted their own web site and members could browse the World Wide Web but were limited to using Lynx, a text-based web browser.
Subscribers were asked to pay a nominal access fee of $25.00 annually. Service was not limited to local users, Telnet could be utilized to access the Omnifest system from any computer connected to the Internet. Similarly, Omnifest members could telnet to other Freenet servers.
Though membership was small by comparison to commercially available dial-up services such as America-Online, Omnifest attracted a wide range of students, teachers, professionals, and computer enthusiasts who wanted to enjoy the benefits of the rapidly growing Internet. It also provided a venue for non-profit and community groups to provide local information.
Disabled people were another important group served. The text-based interface could be easily interpreted by screen reader software. Children could join Omnifest through their schools and explore in the supervised setting of their computer labs.
Community computing enthusiasts hoped to demonstrate that a volunteer based service could be utilized to help those in lower income groups who were interested in being part of an on-line community.
As Internet access in general and other free access Internet methods became available (such as local library services), the need for Omnifest slowly decreased. From a high of 7,000 members, by 1998 only about 900 remained. Omnifest is considered a successful example of a model transitional on-line communications service that helped to usher in the advent of low cost publicly available Internet access.
The document http://www4.uwm.edu/omnifest/neighborhood.html There Goes the Neighborhood, Neil Trilling's essay on changes in the Internet disappeared on June 15, 2007, as a result of the end of school year maintenance but has since been restored.
TriState Online closed on June 30, 1999. They were one of the pioneer community networks and generously provided technical assistance and volunteers when Omnifest was starting.
Mobile Area Freenet - connection refused error message as of May 2002.
Southeast Florida Library Information Network: SEFLIN Free-Net appears no longer to be in operation although the Library site is still active.
Some have evolved into web sites.
- Victoria Telecommunity Network (Victoria Free-Net) - http://victoria.tc.ca/ lists links to international community and free-nets
- Toronto Free-Net - http://www.torfree.net/ has many links to Canadian CommunityNets and FreeNets
- Austin Free-Net, Austin TX - http://www.austinfree.net/
- Boulder Community Network, Boulder CO - http://bcn.boulder.co.us/
- Davis Community Network, Davis CA - http://www.dcn.davis.ca.us/
- Prairie Community Network, Champaign IL -http://www.prairienet.org/
- Seattle Community Network, Seattle WA - http://www.scn.org/
- Northern Colorado FortNet - http://www.fortnet.org/
- Eugene Free Community Network, Eugene OR - http://www.efn.org/
- Huron Valley Community Network, MI - http://www.hvcn.org/
- Aurora Community Network, IL - http://www.ci.aurora.il.us/ appears to be gone as of May 2006
Much of this information originally appeared on the UW-Milwaukee Milwaukee Omnifest Community Network web site.