<<< HISTORY >>>

In 1984, Dr. Tom Grundner and others at the Case Western Reserve University
School of Medicine created a free medical bulletin board system designed to
connect people with healthcare professionals. They named it St. Silicon's
Hospital. Anybody with a computer and a modem could post questions free of
charge and medical staff at CWRU would answer them.

When St. Silicon's Hospital proved to be a success, Dr. Grundner decided to
expand the system; the virtual hospital grew into a virtual city. By 1986,
St. Silicon's Hospital had evolved into the much larger Cleveland Free-Net. As
with St. Silicon's, anybody with a computer and a modem was free to log in.

The Cleveland Free-Net system was built on top of proprietary software
developed by the staff at CWRU. It was called FreePort, and was available for
any institution to use for the fee of US$1. Many others picked up on the
Free-Net idea and before long Free-Nets were popping up all over the place. The
second Free-Net to come online was the Youngstown Free-Net (YFN), also in Ohio.
Many others followed suit; I have personally logged into Free-Nets in places as
far away as Finland!

Due to its restrictive nature, CFN was closer to being a BBS than it was to
being an Internet provider. About the only thing that connected you to the
Internet proper was Usenet and email. The SIGs (special interest groups), IRC
(chat) and other features of CFN were internal, for CFN users only.

CFN was wildly popular in Cleveland and also had users from all over the US and
the world. It was typical to make dozens of attempts to dial in with a modem
only to be met with busy signals. Telnet access was slightly more hospitable
(if you had Internet access already, that is), but even telnet would
occasionally fill up and you'd have to wait a while for an opening. Coupled
with the one hour limit on logins, it could be a real bear to spend much time
on CFN. But users would login and relog religiously on the service, sessions
sometimes lasting for several hours.

    This thing all things devours:
    Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
    Gnaws iron, bites steel;
    Grinds hard stones to meal;
    Slays king, ruins town,
    And beats high mountain down.

        "Riddles in the Dark"
        J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Hobbit"

As do all things, CFN fell victim to the slow decay of time. The years went by,
and the Internet, formerly the realm of academics and government, came to the
public's attention. The multimedia experience of the web and the increasing
availability of commercial Internet providers greatly reduced the appeal that
CFN had once held. For the first time, CFN started to lose users rather than
gain them.

Around this time, mid-1995, Raymond Neff of CWRU's Information Services office
posted this open letter to the Free-Net community.

In mid-1999, CWRU decided to discontinue the Cleveland Free-Net entirely. They
cited Y2K compliance problems; however, a lot of former CFN users believe that
was a convenient excuse (this author included). On September 30, 1999, it was
all over. The Cleveland Free-Net had closed its virtual doors forever.

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