Saturday, July 06, 2013

BPN 1643: The Switch to Internet in The Netherlands (4)

The sudden silent internet switch

However the developing new media industry sector hardly noticed, that internet slipped into the Dutch online scene through the universities. The academic network SURFnet had linked to the NSFnet, the American academic Network and administrator of internet, in 1989. Business in The Netherlands got access to internet by 1991 and in 1992 no less than 290 companies had registered.  By 1993 consumers got access through the ISP XS4ALL. By the end of 1996 there were more than one million internet users and the users of existing online technologies such as ASCII databases, videotext services, e-mail services and Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) switched over to internet. By January 1st, 1997 the Dutch new media had lost their sustainability and digital media took over. In less than three years, between 1994 and 1997 internet, combined with e-mail had superseded new media such as ASCII databases, videotext services, separate e-mail services and Bulletin Board Systems (BBS).

Internet providers for consumers

One of the first consumer internet provider was XS4ALL, which offered its consumer services from May 1, 1993. The company used the Dutch railway telecom infrastructure to link up the broadcasting city of Hilversum and their Amsterdam offices.  In 1994 the company in co-operation with the social centre De Balie started Amsterdam project The Digital City, held in the framework of municipal elections. The project made internet immensely popular in a short time. This was the signal to start up internet services. In the same year the ISP EURONET*INTERNET was launched with posters on all Amsterdam billboards. The year after the ISP Planet Internet was started by publishers and KPN, the former state telecom company; it would grow very fast to become the largest ISP. In the slipstream of the success of Planet Internet, the ISP World Online started up. By January 1, 1997 Internet had more than one million users, while the number ASCII and videotex users drastically went down.

Illustration 1: The growth of internet users in The Netherlands and the decline of videotex users.

The unexpected switch

From 1990 till 1997 the Dutch online world was in confusion. On the one hand the online information services were busy to professionalise, but at the same time they did not see internet coming up. While the producers of ASCII databases, videotext services and CD-ROM products were busy understanding the differences between the various technologies, seeking the proper markets and in many cases busy with surviving, internet slipped into The Netherlands through the academic world. The academic network SURFnet gave access to the employees of universities and all students, wherever they were. Once students had graduated they expected access  in their first job. It stimulated employers to link up to internet and they did. In 1996 Internet got a stimulus, when Microsoft (at last) launched an internet browser. By giving the Internet Explorer away for free, Microsoft overtook the existing free browser Netscape.

Between 1994 and 1997 the confusion about the technologies (ASCII, videotext, e-mail, BBS and internet) was complete. But year by year it became clear that internet was going to be the winner. Words as World Wide Web, server and e-mail became common words.  Internet subscribers increased fast, while ASCII, videotext and e-mail subscribers numbers went down. In less than three years the number of internet subscribers tripled the highest number of videotext users ever.

Instalment 5: How did the sudden switch to internet come about

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