Saturday, November 17, 2012


History of the Internet in Canada

When discussing the history of the internet in Canada we must first look at the pre-internet era: A confusing time with many emerging technologies and incompatible network protocols.

In the early 1980s we had BBSes or Bulletin Board Services where individuals could run BBS software such as C-net, Opus and PCBoard (or even their own custom software) on a home computer. The computers were connected via modems using regular telephone lines, and users could log in one at a time. Some of the bigger BBSes could handle more than one user at a time but were generally a paid service, not free like most of the hobbyist services.

At around the same time there were experiments with Videotex, that is a service that sends data to and from a video terminal. In Canada Telidon was launched August 15, 1978. Telidon is a 2nd generation videotex service. 1st generation videotex services used blocks to do graphics (e.g. UK's Prestel) while Telidon could draw lines, rectangles and polygons and flood fill these shapes.

To do this Telidon used NAPLPS or the North American Presentation Level Protocol Syntax (pronounced nap-lips). Graphics were encoded as a series of instructions (graphics primitives) each represented by a single ASCII character.

To use the Telidon service one needed a suitable terminal with a cable tv connection. Electrohome, Norpak and Microtel all made terminals with a cost from $1,800 and $2,500. We can compare this to the initial price of a Commdore 64 or an XT Clone with peripherals.

Unfortunately Telidon died an early death on March 31st, 1985. The reasons for it's downfall include lack of advertising (no one will buy the service if they don't know about it) and the preference at the time to use home computers running software bought at computer stores. Another factor was the limited amount of data in the system. Users often terminated their subscriptions after a few months. To see what Telidon looked like here is a youtube video: Telidon

Bell Canada offered Alextel terminals to customers up until 1994 which also used NAPLPS. Alextel terminals used modems connected to regular telephone lines.

The Internet Era in Canada begins when Canada joins NSFNET, an international backbone of computing centres that enables more network connections. Early on the only way to get internet in Canada was via 3 regional networks ONet (Ontario Net) BCNet and RISQ (Quebec regional network). These networks connected to the American NSFNet. Up until 1989 you had to be part of an academic or research instituiton to access the internet in Canada.

After 1990 Free-nets start to appear, beginning with Ottawa Ontario and Victoria BC. This was followed by Toronto and Montreal and others. In 1992 Canada Remote Systems becomes CRS Online and could send emails to a Usenet Gateway which was available to the general public.

By 1994 each province and territory had a regional network and all connected together to form CA*net. CA*net eventually becomes CANARIE, the Canadian Network for the Advancement of Research, Industry and Education Headquartered in Ottawa, Ontario.

Around this time major US communication services such as Delphi and BIX offer full internet access wth local telephone numbers in major Canadian cities. Delphi was an ascii text based service.

In 1996 I joined the fledging Durham Internet Service (DIS) and created my first web page. Although DIS is now long defunct, my own web page still exists as

We are very fortunate in Canada to still have various Free-nets which operate as non-profit companies and can sell broadband services using DSL at wholesale prices.  They also provide a free dial-up service for local communities. One such service is Toronto Free-net which is my current ISP. Anyone who has a Bell telephone number in Ontario and Quebec can purchase broadband internet from them. One can find other Free-nets in Canada here.

I have a feeling that NAPLPS will be resurrected by someone in one form or another. The idea of having a information service running on a separate computer monitor seems very appealing, e.g. weather reports or stock market information. Given todays broadband and computer speeds such a system would seem almost instantaneous.


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