I worked on O'Reilly & Associates' Global Network Navigator project, and we partnered with Spry to create Internet In A Box. One day, soon after the product was launched, our receptionist announced that someone had called and said, 'I'd like to buy a copy of the Internet, please.' Apparently the caller took the product name a bit too literally.
AOL I'm ashamed to admit was the only way I got to their version of the internet for a long time. For a while I assumed that the internet was just chat rooms and instant messenger. "Welcome, You've Got Mail".
First internet access was through my University's dial-up service in 1994. You could dial into a Unix shell and get access to email, newsgroups, telnet, ftp, and, later, the lynx web browser. All at 2400 baud.
I didn't sign up for a proper ISP account until 1996, from one of the dime-a-dozen ISPs that popped up around town. But even then I still preferred browsing the web from the Univeristy's servers using lynx; it was so much faster Netscape over dial-up.
By 1999 I had my own Linux server and broadband internet through the local cable company. And suddenly I'm feeling nostalgic for my old @home.com email address, ICQ, Yahoo Java Games, AudioGalaxy, Netscape Communicator, and Red Hat Linux 6.0.
University dialup for me as well starting in 1993. When I graduated, I migrated to a local broadband provider. It just occurred to me to check up on them and I was quite surprised to see that they still exist.
My first online experience/community was the proprietary Prodigy network, though.
My First Internet(tm) was a NetZero account on blazing fast 56k dialup.
Back in 1999, right before we all got flying cars(or at least an IBM ad with Captain Sisko asking why we didn't have flying cars).
I was a bit late to the party as I got a 33.6k modem and a subscription with Swedish Tele2 in early 1997. 10 years later I was surfing the Net with a 100/10MB fiber connection. Amazing how time flies and technology changes in an instant…
University for me as well - 1991. And it was still a DEC VAX account. Discovering the world through gopher and downloading files via kermit. At the same time I was getting involved in local BBS's - I was a latecomer to the PC world - my first PC was a 386DX-16 with 1MB RAM and a 40MB HDD - and I quickly added a 2400 baud internal modem.
In '93 we moved and I went to a community college that didn't offer internet service. I looked through all the info I could find at the computer lab and finally poked my head into the office to ask - they looked at me like I was a foolish dreamer. I was crushed. Had to sign up with an ISP for the first time. I did dabble with AOL, but I signed up for a service that was all command-line and had an internet gateway, but I can't remember the name…
I first accessed the Internet via a College BBS that had an Internet gateway using telnet and ftp. I also had e-mail access via a UUCP feed. Later, I accessed the Internet via several ISPs (ICAN, Unitz, AOL, Persona/Eastlink, Vianet) and also through the local University's DEC VAX shell account (using lynx, pine, ftp, telnet, etc..) Still remember using Kermit and Zmodem protocols to download files from my VAX account to my PC using a terminal emulator program.
My first experience was Prodigy internet, AOL didn't have a local number back in 1995, it was a blazing fast 28.8k. Eventually Erol's internet provided service and I hoped on the 33.6 bandwagon a year later.
I first hit the internet via dialup to a BBS that had a small handful of newsgroups and email addresses, then later became moderator/helpdesk for the company until it closed down in 1995ish or so. All text until then.
Through my university or company, late 80s/early 90s. Can't remember how we used to access newsgroups like rec.humor. "Tin" in the early 90s, for sure, but can't remember how before that. Ah, the salad days.