Ode to demise of dial-up

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Quietly, at midnight on Dec. 31, 2010, an era ended when AlaWeb discontinued its dial-up service, the first real option for those of us who wanted to get online. When I got an e-mail announcing the end of this service, I remembered that it was an act of faith that started AlaWeb.
Back in the mid 1990s when I ventured into cyberspace, AlaWeb was really the only game in town to get “connected.” I came home with my Internet installation stuff and dialed up for the first time. Suddenly I was surfing away, a member of the new Internet community.
One of the reasons my husband and I wanted to go online was the potential that existed for learning more about autism and possible treatments. Through the Internet, we met and shared information with other parents who had kids with autism. It was a way to feel less isolated.
Without the new dial-up service, we would not have discovered many things that helped us as we parented a young autistic child. So, I was grateful for AlaWeb but had no idea how it came to be until a conversation years later when I worked at the newspaper. That day after we discussed possibly writing about the beginnings of AlaWeb, I contacted Jimmy Caton and Paul Spears to find out how it got started. Jimmy said he wanted to think about it and then decided to write in his own words what he recalled about bringing a more accessible Internet service to the area.
He e-mailed me pages telling the story of how he and Paul met, became friends and went into business together. It was fascinating to hear how the two of them jumped off a cliff into the unknown unsure where they might land but determined to start the service.
In fact, “unknown” was a word Jimmy used when he described the financial end of the venture.
“After we got as much information as we could, we figured out what we ‘thought’ a start up cost would be,” he wrote, “…This start-up cost figure that we had come up with was, as in many cases of the unknown, not even close.”
Despite this realization, they ventured ahead.
I don’t remember why the paper decided to run a different story about the company, but the pages Jimmy wrote that day from a computer in his cabin went into a file folder that ended up in a box in my closet.
When I got the e-mail about the dial-up service ending, I thought about those pages and about my conversation with Jimmy the day he called to say I had an e-mail coming from him.
I remember reading how he learned about computers and the internet, and then realized the new technology’s potential. Then he expressed his frustration at not having a dependable, affordable service provider available in this rural area. He described how he and Paul, through trial and error, started up the service in answer to that frustration. He talked and wrote about how it grew, expanded and became something beyond what he imagined.
Jimmy was like a proud parent talking about his child growing from infancy to adulthood. And like parents, eventually he and Paul watched as AlaWeb went its own way without them.
True, the dial-up service ended with the start of this year, but AlaWeb offers wireless and e-mail accounts, and it is still our best option for getting any kind of higher speed Internet service out where we live.
Sadly, Jimmy is no longer with us, but what he and his friend, Paul, started remains and I am grateful that they gave birth to AlaWeb. It stands as a testament to how high you can fly if you have enough faith to sail off that cliff even with no idea where you will land.