The advent of the Internet brought with it hitherto unheard of possibilities for human creativity, information access, and global communication. When did these possibilities actually translate into widespread public access to the Internet? It is difficult to specify a date, but one can identify a few key developments and the key actors behind those developments.
Long before the advent of the Internet, the counterculture movement – Vietnam, alternative technologies, etc. – gave birth to the first community network, when the Community Memory system was developed in the early 1960s in San Francisco by a group of hackers. Then in 1986 the Cleveland Free-Net in Ohio started a new generation of community networks. Free-Net soon drew thousands of new users, and new systems were established in dozens of cities, mostly in Midwest USA. These free public-access computer networks enabled people not only to exchange and access information but also empowered them.