Over 30 million people have access to the Internet and the number is increasing by 15 per cent each month. Tony Gosgnach explains how to reach these people at very little cost.

As the so-called information super highway continues to make greater inroads into all facets of our lives, it is becoming more and more crucial that pro-life and pro-family views don’t get stuck on the onramp.

Pro-life and pro-family participation is particularly important with respect to the Internet, an uncensored and unsupervised communication network which links computer users throughout the world. Current estimates already place the number of terminals connected to the Internet at 30 million in over 70 countries and this figure is increasing at the rate of 15 per cent per month.

While the Internet offers the pro-life, pro-family movement a promising new outlet to distribute information without having it filtered through censoring agents or a hostile news media, it also poses some threats and challenges, as right-to-die groups have already logged onto the network and are distributing suicide recipes. Meanwhile, abortion-rights elements are also making themselves clearly heard.

So, for pro-life and pro-family people who want to join and make their views known on the Internet, we will here offer a primer on how to get involved in the electronic discussion—from selecting the necessary computer equipment to proper etiquette on the Internet once you’ve logged on.

John Girolami, manager of technological development fro an Oakville, Ontario firm, says the first ting a prospective buyer of a computer system should consider is what he or she will be using it for and then cater purchasing to those criteria. “You don’t have to get very sophisticated,” he stresses.

Girolami says the steady lowering prices mean that a computer with at least a level 486 processor chip is now affordable and recommended. Such a computer offers relatively fast processing speeds, he notes.

The next item to select is the monitor. Girolami says if you plan to do a lot of graphic work, a colour monitor and a screen pixel size of 0.28 are recommended. “Most people go with a colour monitor which is a quality type called Super VGA or SVGA. This means that when you get graphic images on your screen, they’re very precise and exact—you don’t get blotchy colours. So if you’re going to do a lot of graphics, make sure you get a 0.28 monitor.”

Girolami recommends that the computer’s memory capacity be at least four megabytes so it can run larger programs, but he suggests purchasing a more pricey eight-megabyte machine if you can afford it.

The computer’s hard disk storage capacity, meanwhile, should be at least 250 megabytes as a starting point. Again, however, extensive use of graphics and storage of photographic images may call for higher storage capacities, he says.

A printer comes in handy for those computer users who produce written documents and spreadsheets. Girolami says you can choose from one of three options: a laser printer which offers the best printing quality at, of course, the highest cost; a more economically priced dot-matrix printer which offers type-writer-like printing quality; or a bubble-jet printer, which is based on newer technology and offers good printing quality at a cost less than that of a laser printer. A bubble-jet printer costs in the area of $400 to $450, he says.

Finally, a modem is a requirement for computer users who wish to log on the Internet. This is a device which permits data communications between computer terminals and also allows access to such things as bulletin boards and electronic mail (private electronic messages sent from one computer to another). But make sure you have a modem which is suitable for the system you have, advises Girolami.

Computer users can also invest in CD-Rom technology which allows the storage of up to 680 megabytes of information on a compact disk, he says, adding that a CD-Rom is particularly useful for keeping data such as photographs.

So the average cost of a computer system with at least four megabytes of memory, 500 megabytes of hard disk storage capacity, a good colour monitor and a modem would cost in the range of $1,500 to $1,600, says Girolami. Adding a CD-Rom and a printer would bring the cost up to about $2,00o to $2,500, but by then, “You’ve got a very sophisticated system,” he says.

Getting onto the Internet afterwards involves hooking up with an Internet service provider, which would basically charge a monthly fee of $10 to $30 monthly depending on the number of services you have access to. Girolami recommends signing on with one of the major national providers such as CompuServe, Prodigy or America Online. The provider will then give you the necessary software to get your computer onto the Internet system.

He cautions about using lesser-known Internet service providers because some of these are fly-by-night operations which are trying to cash in on the sudden popularity of the Internet by taking customers’ money and then going out of business shortly afterwards. Some of those operations also have limited service capacities, which means you may often get busy signals or slow response times.

Using a national service provider also has the advantage of offering services wherever you go without incurring the added costs of long distance charges when you are outside your home area, says Girolami.

Once you are hooked up to the Internet, the next step is being able to navigate your way around. Internet providers generally offer a search function which allows you to enter a keyword which will then summon a list of applicable and related bulletin boards and news and discussion groups. Feeding in a keyword such as “abortion,” for example, will summon a list of entries related to that subject.

Probably the most effective area for pro-life Internet users to get involved in is discussion groups related to abortion. This will put you into an area which allows you to post original messages and reply to other messages so that all other Internet users logged onto the system can read what you have to say. One of the main groups for this subject is a Usenet group called alt.abortion, but other related groups also feature debates on the subject, including alt.feminism, alt.bill-clinto and alt.rush-limbaugh.

Be advised, however, that you are entering an area which is unsupervised and operates in debate-style format, so be prepared for some hostile and possibly distasteful responses from abortion advocates o your pro-life postings.

“They’re trying to build standards into the industry but it’s just so new,” says Girolami of the Internet system. “It’s very hard to regulate and police it.”

On the other hand, as mentioned earlier, the open nature of the Internet offers the advantage of giving pro-lifers the opportunity to state their case to a large audience without fear of censorship or of having to go through a distorting mediating agent.

Despite the unsupervised status of the Internet and the fact that some users post distasteful and sometimes obscene messages, there are some basic rules of courtesy which most participants are expected to follow. Refraining from the just-mentioned postings of distasteful messages is one of them. But so also is the posting of commercial messages intended for money-making purposes or the posting of meaningless messages which only cost participants further expense in online costs and which tie up already-strained communication lines further.

In other words, make sure you have something meaningful to say before you post a message. Also, be concise. Some Internet users pay fees based on the length of messages, so don’t ramble on and say more than you have to say.

A pro-life leader who has come to realize the potential offered by the Internet is Gloria Lawrenson, executive director of Halton Pro-Life in Burlington, Ontario. She hopes to be on the system in the next few months to publicize the pro-life side of the abortion debate and respond to submissions from pro-abortion forces.

“It holds absolutely huge potential because of the discussion groups which are uncensored,” says Lawrenson. “I can’t get on CBC tonight and show pictures of an aborted baby, but I could get on the Internet.”

She says that would provide an antidote to the submissions of pro-abortion groups and other anti-life and anti-family elements which have already made their views well known on the system. “We can take this computer technology which has overwhelmingly been used for evil so far and turn it into good.”

Lawrenson says she is moving quickly to get Halton Pro-Life on line. “I just got a modem installed and over the next couple of months will be figuring out the best and most economical means to use that modem…Hopefully, we’ll move to establishing our own network and bulletin board service to update people on events as well.”

But you don’t have to be a member of an organized group to get onto the Internet and make yourself heard. Any individual with a computer and modem can do what Lawrenson and others are doing and support the pro-life and pro-family cause in an exciting new venue.

If you require more information on the Internet than provided here, two good books on the subject which are available at any major bookstore are The Canadian Internet Handbook and Internet For Dummies.