UPDATE: Several things have changed in the past years. Many of the free services that we had in the past are no longer available. Accordingly, this page has been updated.
Free Electronic Mail (E-Mail)
E-mail is the new, modern way for people to communicate. It is almost a necessity for most of us to communicate with friends and family. First, I will discuss free e-mail service using your existing computer, or one of the alternative technologies.
First, let's assume that you have a computer. There are several free e-mail services available, but the most popular is Juno. (Note that this should not be confused with the mail-forwarding services such as Hotmail that require you to have Internet access). Juno is an easy-to-use, free stand-alone e-mail service that works on an IBM-compatible computer running Windows 95 or 98. You do not need to have access to the Internet to use Juno. Go to http://www.juno.com to sign up and download the software or order a CD-ROM. Juno has many local access numbers, or you can use your calling card if a local number is not available. Note that there are no local numbers in Canada or Mexico. Juno is advertiser-supported, so you will see some ads, but these go away when you exit the program.
Why spend $20/month for Internet access when you can have it for free? Netzero offers free Internet access and works on an IBM-compatible computer running Windows 95 or 98. Go to http://www.netzero.com to sign up and download the software or order a CD-ROM. With Netzero, you also get a free e-mail address, and you can also send or receive attachments for free. You will need to use a stand-alone browser and e-mail program with Netzero, but your computer should have Internet Explorer already installed, which can handle your browser and e-mail needs.
Like Juno, Netzero is advertiser-supported, so you will see some ads that also go away when you exit Netzero. You can use your calling card with Netzero if a local number is not available.
Another free ISP service is available at http://www.altavista.com. Note that you must have a recent version of Windows Dial Up Networking and also have Microsoft DIRECTX controls installed on your computer. This is likely not a problem if you have Windows 98 installed on your computer. The Altavista program is only about 750k, and works great. Altavista is also an advertiser-supported service.
Note that there are at least several other free ISP's, including FreeInet, Excite and Xoom.
My personal favorite for a free ISP is Juno. Juno is the second-largest ISP in the country, second only to AOL.
Free Long Distance Calls
How would you like to virtually eliminate your long-distance phone bills? We have accomplished this feat for the last nine months, and a computer is not required, although you will need to borrow a friend's e-mail address if you don't have one. Go to http://www.broadpoint.com and sign up with Freeway. Once you receive your Personal Identification Number and simple dialing instructions via e-mail, you can make up to two hours of free long-distance calls every month - even from a payphone, no computer required! The catch? This is an advertiser-supported service, and you get two free minutes of long distance for each 10-second advertisement that you listen to. Sign up your spouse or traveling partner, and together you will have 4 hours of free long distance each month. IMPORTANT UPDATE: Broadpoint has changed their policy - they now require you to buy something from one of their sponsors before they will give you the free calling. For this reason, I do not recommend Freeway any longer.
However, you can still make free long distance calls, but you must have a computer connected to internet. Go to http://www.dialpad.com and sign up for their free service. For us full-timers, this is of value only when we have a phone at our campsite in a town where one of our free ISP's has a local number.....in other words, VERY SELDOM. Also, note that your PC must be equipped with a full-duplex soundcard and microphone. Voice quality varies as this system uses the packet network to place the calls.
Best Calling Card Rate The best calling card rate I have found is 3.9 cents/minute, with a 55 cent payphone surcharge. If you are interested, go to http://www.bigzoo.com where you can read all the details. You can purchase a PREPAID card on-line on their secure server, and within a minute you will have your PIN and dialing instructions. Since this service utilizes voice over IP technology, its best use is to allow you to cheaply and economically retrieve your e-mail or surf the 'net. Due to packet delays, occasionally the voice quality may be marginal, but data works fine! Note that after using bigzoo for over a month, voice quality has always been very good....however, it can be very difficult at times to get through on their toll-free number as their system is very busy.
Free RV Info and Help
Now you can have almost instant help for any RV-related topic. Need to know about campgrounds near Walla Walla, IL? Need some ideas for fixing your refrigerator? If you have a computer and an e-mail address, help is just an e-mail away. The RV-Talk Club operates a "list processor", which sends your e-mail question to everyone else who has joined the group. To join the group, send an e-mail to email@example.com with SUBSCRIBE in the body of the message. Note that this is all caps and there is nothing in the subject line.
If anyone has any questions - about computers or whatever - you can contact me, Bob Cook, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The DISCOVERY OWNERS ASSOCIATION, INC, was formed to promote the sharing of information and the camaraderie of fellow Discovery motorhome owners. Membership in the club is limited to owners of Fleetwood Discovery motorhomes.