History of the Internet – Part 1

Working from Home in the 90s

Cindy McQueen

When my husband and I first got married I worked in an IT department for a large insurance company in Mississauga. Part of my job entailed being on call when the batch programs ran overnight, if anything went wrong, I would have to analyze the error and fix it so that the programs could complete overnight. I hated being on call …. all we had was dial-up internet. If anything went wrong, it was up to me to diagnose and fix a broken program or file late at night from home, or drive an hour and a half to fix it at work. The programs had to run; auto & property insurance policies, renewals and claims had to be processed every day.

In this day of high-speed everything, millennials may not understand how slow dial-up internet was. Imagine walking from Flesherton to Markdale instead of driving. Yes, it was that  s l o w ! The maximum download speed was 56K or .056 mbps and cost roughly $10 a month. The beauty of it was if you had a phone line, you could connect your computer to a modem which plugged into the phone line jack. The internet provider would give you a phone number which the modem would ‘call’ to connect your computer to the provider. You could hear the dial tone and the phone number being entered, followed by a series of clicking, beeping and a high-pitched screech. This was called the ‘handshake’ as your computer was identified to the provider and access was allowed. Sometimes you would hear a busy signal and have to ‘call’ again. Once the call was connected, your modem would translate your digital data into an audio signal to be transferred across the phone line to the modem at the receiving end, which translated it back to a digital signal. 

At the time, I was totally impressed with this technology (I was also impressed with the first video game “Pong” when it came out in the 80s). I could access work, emails and information at home. Websites were written in HTML and were static; basic information and small photos. But as I mentioned, it was slow, while waiting for a page to load you could easily make a sandwich, throw a load of laundry in the washing machine, and still wait for the web page to load. Another drawback was your phone line was connected to the internet so anyone trying to call you would get a busy signal. 

Surprisingly, dial-up internet is still used in remote locations across North America today. 


Did I leave you hanging? Waiting for me to finish my dial-up story? Well then, you just experienced dial-up! In this day and age of instant information it’s hard to remember what it was like to have slow internet while working from home.  

As published in Hello Country Magazine – March 2022