Several Strings Attached

Free Internet service usually comes with a catch

Should you connect to the Internet for free and dump your present, monthly-fee Internet service provider? Ask Brother Frederick here at the monastery. He has four free Internet service providers.

Brother Frederick Schaeffer has signed up with,, and The reason is that free services are so popular they are often too overloaded to function properly — or the log-on line is busy. Brother says he has more of a chance of getting through with four free services than with only one.

There is a Catholic diocese in South America that now offers free Internet access. I wish a diocese in the United States would do likewise. The opening page could be the diocesan page, thereby keeping Catholics in the diocese informed of what is going on or perhaps even making the start page the nearest parish Web page. And to make it more attractive they could offer filtered access that would be safe for the whole family. Such a free service could attract non-Catholics as well and perhaps bring them into the Church.

Or how about a national, free, Catholic Internet Service Provider?

Back to reality. The very first free service that I heard of was Freewwweb. It was launched in 1996 (and has recently discontinued service by merging with Juno). Back then, Freewwweb charged a hefty startup fee of around $100 so it didn't interest me. However, the next free Internet Service Provider,, claimed to be totally free so I decided to sign up. Of course, they are not in business for charity so what was the catch? I had to fill out a lengthy questionnaire before downloading their software. Once I had it, it ate up a quarter of my screen with advertisements while I surfed.

Eventually I changed from NetZero to Freewwweb because they had dropped the startup fee and upped the ante on quality — no advertisement banner while surfing! All I had to do was make Freewwweb's page my opening page. There wasn't even any software to download! I just signed up to get my username and password. Then I followed their instructions for how to configure Window's dialup networking and I was connected. (However, Freewwweb no longer exists.)

People are migrating to new connections, offered through cable TV companies, little by little. I was very surprised when Freewwweb offered to provide free Digital Subscriber Line connections that included even a free DSL modem and installation. I had to check this out! For the first time in my life I actually studied the user agreement.

There were enough catches in there to trip up even the most flexible Web user — everything from stipulations on where you bought your telecommunications services to banner ads. Given all these catches, I quickly decided this free service wasn't for me. I'm not sure if this tentative approach by Freewwweb had something to do with its getting gobbled up by Juno.

How about AOL for free? Yes, it is possible. I signed up for an AOL Visa Card and for every dollar spent on the card, I receive a reward point. Each reward point is worth a penny. My three hours a month on AOL should cost $4.95 but I receive at least 500 reward points on the Visa Card to cover the cost. To get 10 hours a month of AOL access free you would have 1,000 reward points and 2,200 for unlimited access. Even if you do not spend this much you can still get some dollars off your monthly AOL access bill.

So, are free services worth it? That all depends on your situation. My suggestion is that you try one or more of the free services for a while to see if you really want to switch entirely over or just keep it as a back-up.

Now for this month's recommended Web sites:

The Catholic Information Network (CIN) which has been around since1987, started as an extensive bulletin-board system. Its mission was to offer free information on the Catholic Faith. They now have a tremendous amount of Catholic information on their web site. You will especially want to check out their 46 mailing lists on various topics.

Christus Rex et Redemptor Mundi at was begun in 1994 by Michael Olteanu for the purpose of disseminating information on works of art preserved in churches, cathedrals and monasteries all over the world. Along with many beautiful pictures, you will find much information on the Holy Land. And don't miss the Lord's Prayer in 1,070 languages.

Mother Angelica's Eternal Word Television Network is on the Web at The network streams both their television (EWTN) and radio (WEWN) live over the Internet using RealPlayer, easily downloaded for free.

They also have an audio and video archive of past shows, an extensive file library consisting of 39 different categories and nine picture gallery exhibits are worth viewing. Plus there's an interactive section where you can ask questions of experts on various aspects of the Catholic faith — moral theology, apologetics, Church history and so on; usually you get an answer within 24 to 48 hours.

Would I be Catholic if I didn't point you to the Vatican site at It has come a long way since first going online in 1995. Live broadcasts of Centro Televisivo Vaticano (CTV) and Radio Vaticana can be enjoyed through the site, as can archived shows.

L'Osservatore Romano Newspaper is available to download, and there are many important documents to be found here — including virtually all of Pope John Paul II's encyclicals, letters and exhortations. Some works of the Vatican Museum can be seen and the Vatican Library Catalog is online. If you can't make it to Rome during the Jubilee year, spending some time at the "virtual Vatican" can make for a valuable alternative.

Brother John Raymond
is author of
on the Internet, 2000-2001