Help me mine the Internet of yore...first ISP and web site for Spfld, IL
March 12, 2019 7:06 AM   Subscribe

A question was posed to me today: What was the first ISP in Springfield, IL, and (by extension) what was the first local business to Springfield that had a web site. I'm positive the Wayback machine must have a way to help with this but Google-Fu is failing. Anyone able to assist?

I lived in Springfield, IL during that time and I have vague memories of ISPs. I remember the first one made a big splash because people were paying AOL by-the-hour in 1995 so unlimited dial-up was a major thing. The company didn't stick around long, but they were the first...and I can't remember their name.

And being the first ISP in town they may likely be the first local web site as well, but I'm not sure.

Anyone have great Wayback Machine Google-Fu to mine this data, or give me tips on how to find it?
posted by arniec to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How are you defining ISP? AOL certainly was one, but are you looking for a non dial-up option? Or unlimited dial-up? The phone company probably provided ADSL before cable internet was available, although maybe not as early as 1995.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:15 AM on March 12

I mean dial-up internet non-AOL. The phone company did offer T-1 lines (and partial T-1s) back in '96 (I worked in the local web industry in '96) but DSL was still about 3 years away.

But there was a company in '95-'96 that rivaled AOL in that it had unlimited use POTS service. Struggling to remember the name though.
posted by arniec at 7:18 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]

I had dialup pre-web internet in 1992 in Portland, OR. I'd be surprised if Springfield doesn't go as far back.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:20 AM on March 12

I imagine that services like Prodigy and Compuserve were some of the first offering a connection to some form of internet services - but this was pre-web, so the services would have been things like email or text forums or IRC. These wikipedia entries have information on when they started offering internet services. Would be surprising (I think) if there was some local homegrown option for consumers that was earlier than these.
posted by Mid at 7:28 AM on March 12

The Internet Archive recently added copies of Boardwatch Magazine. This was a magazine about BBSes but if you look at issues from that era (here's January 1995) you can see they are looking at the Internet and the World Wide Web with an eye towards the future (or perhaps their doom, your perspective may vary).

Maybe scouring the ads and their "Big BBS List" in the back will jog your memory, or perhaps they even bought an ad here. A lot of the early ISPs did since they had nowhere else to try and reach subscribers.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:29 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]

Here is a list of pre-web online services that might also jog your memory. A lot of these types of dial-up services started offering connections of one kind or another to internet-based services in the early 90s.
posted by Mid at 7:31 AM on March 12

Ah: Delphi provided national consumer access to the Internet in 1992. Features included E-mail (July 1992), FTP, Telnet, Usenet, text-based Web access (November 1992), MUDs, Finger, and Gopher. "To a lot of people at the time, we seemed to be in an enviable position" says Dan Bruns, Delphi's CEO. "But we didn't have a lot of financing to fuel our growth..."
posted by Mid at 7:32 AM on March 12

This sent me googling for my Peoria-based BBS from the early '90s (Heartland Freenet!), which turned up this list of BBSes by area code. Springfield went back as far as '82 with something called Bullet 80.
posted by hwyengr at 7:40 AM on March 12

HWYengr - oh yeah, these old BBss bring up a LOT of memories of dialing up to them in '93 - '95 (I even ran a small one...too small to show on that list I guess and I can't even remember the name of it). I was really hoping that list would make me remember the first ISP but no dice... But thanks for the walk down memory lane of BBS land!
posted by arniec at 7:48 AM on March 12

Ah, found! Cen-com. Found by paying a few bucks to the Springfield newspaper State-Journal Register. Found an article from 1994 discussing the new Cen-com that would connect us to the "information superhighway" that Al Gore promised (no joke).

Vice President Al Gore wants the United States to have an "information superhighway" by the year 2000. Springfield businessman Tom Folder disagrees.

He says the information superhighway is already here, and Springfield is about to get a brand-new on-ramp.

A total provider, like CEN-COM, provides direct and almost immediate access to all branches of the Internet network, Folder said.

"We offer one-stop shopping at one price for everybody," he said.

CEN-COM is one of only 16 total providers in the nation, Folder said. Most of the others are on the east and west coasts, with one in Michigan and another in Ohio.
posted by arniec at 8:13 AM on March 12 [8 favorites]

Good find!

Mr Folder might have been a little boisterous about the exclusivity of his business, though. There were at least 3-4 private ISPs running in the Chicago area alone at that time.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:45 AM on March 12

CEN-COM is one of only 16 total providers in the nation

I seriously doubt that this is true. I had PPP/SLIP dial-up internet (from DGsys, Digital Gateway Systems) in the DC area in 1994, and I remember that I had several choices... including some "big" national ones: netcom (, which was started in 1988 or 89, and Mindspring (more like 1994)

TheWELL ( started in the 80s.
TheWorld ( was another nationwide one from 1990 or so.
NYC had Panix and Phantom/Mindvox, both as early as 1991 or 1992. was regional (Carolinas?), also early 90s.

So, between CEN-COM and the 8 that I've listed, that covers more than half of the "16" ISPs dating to 1994. Something tells me that there are more than 7 others.
posted by toxic at 9:16 AM on March 12

You both may be right. I did note that the reporter didn't fact check Folder's claims, instead Folder himself saying this himself.

The source for this was the State Journal Register site, article dated May 1994. I make no claims as to the accuracy of the local rag, but at least it spurred that name from the tip of my tongue
posted by arniec at 9:51 AM on March 12

He probably was correct in a very limited sense. The Well, for example, wasn't an ISP for quite a long while. Netcom, Panix, and Mindspring were starting up about that time also, but most of the Internet was still connected to NSFnet or one of the non-commercial IXes and weren't supposed to be selling service to the general public.

It wouldn't surprise me at all if 16 was the true number of commercial ISPs that could legally sell service to the public at the time he started. Of course, there were probably at least a hundred others getting started at exactly the same time.
posted by wierdo at 11:02 AM on March 12

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