A history of Cleveland Free-Net at CWRU

As the public celebrated the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web, here at Case Western Reserve, our roots in open access to a community computer system started well before then—and more than half of respondents to Monday’s trivia question answered correctly: Cleveland Free-Net. (Although another answer that could be considered correct is ARPANET, the predecessor of what eventually became the global Internet. Case Western Reserve University was one of the first universities connected to ARPANET in 1971.)

In July 1986, Cleveland Free-Net was founded by former faculty member Thomas Grundner.

According to the university archives:

The system allowed anyone with a computer or terminal with a modem to call in and have access to a wide variety of electronic services and features. These services and features included: a post office where free electronic mail was available for anyone in northeast Ohio who registered in the system; a school system where Cleveland area schools could communicate via computer and where common databases could be accessed by teachers, parents, students, and administrators; a hospital, St. Silicon’s Hospital and Information Dispensary, where a wide variety of medical information and services were available including the opportunity to ask medically-related questions; a public square where people could make speeches from an electronic podium, be part of an online computer user group, join interest groups, and other services.

The archives post also notes that the advent of the World Wide Web and other technologies made Free-Net obsolete. It officially ended Sept. 30, 1999.