Tuesday, May 01, 2018

BPN 1739: 25 years of consumer internet in the Netherlands

"On 1 May 1993, something remarkable happened. On that day, XS4ALL opened its server to the consumer. The management's objective was to acquire 500 customers in half a year. But at 7 o'clock in the evening, the 500th customer had already signed up. This success can largely be explained by the publication of the article "A continent that belongs to no one yet" by Francisco van Jole "(@2525) in the Volkskrant of the same day".

Besides (old) illustrations on the site of XS4ALL, there is also an old sound found. It is about the sound the handshake of a modem to the server of the IP. After the ringtone of DDS now also one of XS4ALL plus a happy birthday tune. 

 Text fragment: Toen digitale media nog nieuw waren - Pre-internet in de polder (1967-1997) - bit.ly/2e1T7ON. 

The following article is a translation of an article published by InCT.nl. 

25 years of the internet for Dutch consumers

On 1 May I congratulated my grandsons. They looked up from their phone and asked what. Of course, the congratulations were not for Labour Day, because they are still at school. I congratulated them on 25 years of the internet for Dutch consumers. They shrugged their shoulders and continued with their smartphones. For me, it is still a matter of guessing whether they know what consumers are.
They know the term internet, but why celebrate an anniversary of something you use every day? Yes, they were still unborn when Dutch consumers were introduced to the phenomenon of the Internet (certainly, with a capital letter, because it was a new phenomenon at the time).

Illustration 1: The Volkskrant article of 1 May 1993

On May 1, 1993, I opened the Volkskrant and found an article with the headline 'A continent that belongs to no one yet' by Francisco van Jole. It was about the phenomenon of the Internet. According to language researcher Perry Feenstra, that word was only used 22 times in the national newspapers in that year.

Open to consumers
On the same day, the Internet organisation XS4ALL opened its service to consumers. It was anticipated that it would take between six months and a year for 500 subscribers to come forward. But the target was achieved that same evening. The article in de Volkskrant will undoubtedly have contributed to this. This made XS4ALL the first real internet organization to serve consumers as well as business customers.

The years prior to the launch of XS4ALL were confusing. In the Netherlands there was an online multi-flow country: there were ASCII, video and electronic messaging services and Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). In academia, something as vague as the Internet played a role and, since 1990, the Web. New companies were formed around this new movement, which mainly focused on business customers or associations such as the Hobby Computer Club. In 1992, 292 companies were customers of an Internet service provider. NLnet gave consumers - mostly former students - access, but did not believe that there was a consumer market.

Illustration 2: A map of the Netherlands with internet services, academic and business (1992/1993)

XS4ALL did not do the same thing. There the founders believed in a consumer market. The founders knew each other from the magazine Hac-Tic, which dealt with hacking, free calls, operating systems and services such as Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). The founders of XS4ALL also made use of NEABBS (Dutch First General Bulletin Board System), a BBS based in Amsterdam.

In 1993, XS4ALL was founded by Rop Gonggrijp, Paul Jongsma, Felipe Rodriquez and Cor Bosman. In a short space of time, they were able to develop their internet service into a company. In early 1994, for example, XS4ALL worked with De Digitale Stad (The Digital City). In that year the company also worked together with VPRO, which became the first broadcaster to work with the internet; in view of their visual material, they needed fast telephone lines and found them at the telecom service of the Dutch Railways. In 1994, the service was incorporated into a foundation and, since 1996, into a private limited company.

Illustration 3: Advertising of XS4ALL

XS4ALL was also the first to face lawsuits. For example, in 1995, the Church of Scientology filed a lawsuit against the publisher Karin Spaink Karin, the Internet service XS4ALL, and a number of other service providers. Spaink is said to have published on the internet texts of Scientology on which the Church's copyright would rest; according to Spaink, they were merely extracts. XS4ALL successfully argued that it only passed on the material, not published it.


The great surprise was when the Dutch telecom operator KPN took over XS4ALL twenty years ago. It soon became clear that XS4ALL would remain an independent company and would not be integrated with Planet Internet, which had just survived an integration battle at the beginning of 1997 with the videotex service Videotex Netherlands, the Internet service WorldAccess and the messaging service Memocom. However, after the sale to KPN, activism remained a feature of XS4ALL. For example, XS4ALL has conducted a trial with Ziggo against the collecting society BREIN for blocking access to the Pirate Bay download site.

Meanwhile, XS4ALL is one of the better but more expensive internet providers in the Netherlands and the service is used by KPN as a vehicle to sell multiple service packages with fibre optic, landline, television and mobile.

Illustrations are part of the Collection Jak Boumans.

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