SO YOU'VE read all the hype about the Internet and decided you want to be a part of the great digital revolution. Congratulations! It is the best decision that you'll make this year.

Unfortunately, deciding to get yourself online is only the first of many choices that you're going to have to make. Let's assume that you've got a computer of some sort (a necessity). The first thing you're going to have to do is buy a modem, a device that translates the digital information that your computer uses into analogue signals that can be transmitted along a phone line. The modem is actually the only piece of hardware you need to get yourself online. All that is required now is Internet access and the software to bring your computer to life.

Internet access is gained from a service provider, a commercial organisation that establishes and maintains the links between end-users (you!) and the rest of the Internet. CompuServe and Demon are the most popular service providers. Choosing the right provider for your needs is essential. As well as the setup fee, you should also take note of the charges per month, whether they have a "Pop" (point of presence) near you, which allows local- call telephone rates, and what sort of services they offer once you are online. Most Internet magazines have a list of providers.

Once you've chosen your provider, they should then send you all of the software you need to start cruising. Some companies now provide all-in- one packages with e-mail and a Web browser (software for access to the World Wide Web). Of course, not all providers do this, so check before paying. And if it's not going to be as idiot-proof as an all-in-one package, make sure that you're given access to adequate technical support.

Once you've made your choice and loaded the software - what next? Well, how about downloading the latest U2 track, not yet available in the shops? Perhaps you want, as many do when they first get online, to assess the Internet pornography problem at first-hand? Only one thing is certain, the possibilities will be endless.

NEXT WEEK: 2 Finding your way around the World Wide Web

! The writers are editor and production editor of `Internet & Comms' magazine.

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