1988 vs. 2008: A Tech Retrospective

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Internet Access

A 1988 advertisement for CompuServe.
1988: CompuServe

  • Price: $6.00 to $47.50 per hour ($11 to $83 adjusted for inflation)
  • Connection: dial-up
  • Speed: 300 to 9600 baud
  • Services: 400 databases, covering news, shopping, finance and the like; 140 discussion groups, e-mail

A Web page for AT&T Elite DSL.
2008:  AT&T Elite DSL

  • Price:  $35 per month
  • Connection: Digital Subscriber Line
  • Speed: 6 mbps
  • Services: nearly anything you can imagine

Think back to a time when you had to use AOL to get online, and were mostly limited to the channels and information that service provided. Now delve even deeper into the misty past, to an age when there was no Web at all, much less a graphical interface.

 The world of CompuServe, the leading online service of the 1980s, consisted of menus and pages in a command-line interface. You'd work your way down a series of menus to get to your car-restoration SIG (special interest group), back up and head over to check stock prices, and move out through a special gateway to make a plane reservation on Eaasy Sabre.

All of that text menu navigating was costly: $12.50 per hour at 1200 or 2400 baud, and up to $47.50 for 9600-baud access. Just getting there could be expensive, too. Unless you had a Tymnet or Telenet network gateway in your local dialing area, you had to budget for per-minute phone charges on top of everything else. A $500 CompuServe bill and a $200 access fee were by no means uncommon.

AOL launched in 1989, signaling the death of videotex services, and the Web arrived in 1993. In comparison to 1988's, today's high-speed broadband service seems practically free.

Cable modems took the early lead, but this year DSL households are expected to overtake cable households for the first time ever, largely due to deep discounting by AT&T and other carriers. AT&T's basic service starts at just $20 per month, and the 6-mbps Elite service is priced at $35, with no contract required. AT&T even throws in free Wi-Fi service at McDonald's and Starbucks locations.

The future is personal broadband access that goes with us everywhere: Home and cellular broadband access will become one service.

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