Business in Vancouver: News that works for you

    The cheque is virtually in the mail

    by Alan Zisman (c) 1995 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #303  August 15, 1995 High Tech Office  column

    It's possible that Internet access may someday become as essential for businesses as a fax machine is today. At the moment, however, some businesses are finding full 'Net access a combination of an expensive bother, a time-waster and a security risk.

    At the North American headquarters of Pepsi-Cola, for instance, management is afraid of introducing viruses and pornography onto its internal network, and, aware of the potential for employees spending huge amounts of job time surfing the 'Net, has added monitoring software to keep track of who does what on the 'Net, and for how long. Company policy states that use of the 'Net for personal purposes is cause for discipline or dismissal.

    And while getting an individual user onto the Internet can be a simple matter of establishing an account with a commercial Internet service provider and setting up some software, connecting a business network onto the 'Net is much more involved. It can include gateways, for example, to translate the internal messages to and from Internet standards, and firewalls to protect the internal network from outsiders. Add in a Unix Internet server, and employee time to maintain the new system, and companies can easily be looking at a cost ranging from $5,000 to $20,000.

    Despite these costs and potential problems, there is no doubt that more and more companies are finding the Internet a useful business tool. But while the flash of the Internet's World Wide Web gets the bulk of the publicity, for many business users the most immediately useful Internet service may well be the simplest--e-mail. Vancouver's Electric Mail Company (EMC) agrees. Started late last year by Cathy Munn, formerly of IBM and Microsoft, and John Bryce, once with the Canadian Space Agency, EMC suspects that while full Internet access can be expensive and troublesome for many businesses, almost all can benefit from access to Internet e-mail. As Canada Post rates go up, EMC offers a service to make Internet e-mail affordable to businesses of all sizes. It provides a gate to the Internet for companies with local area networks and internal e-mail systems. This frees the companies from the expense, complexity, and security problems of a full Internet connection by making EMC the go-between.

    If needed, EMC can obtain an Internet domain name for the company, so that outsiders can address mail to an individual employee at the company, using standard Internet addressing (like your name@your It translates this into your company's internal mail system, currently supporting Microsoft Mail, cc:Mail and GroupWise, with Lotus Notes gateway planned for the future.

    Hourly (or more frequently, if desired), EMC phones into your company's modem, picks up any outgoing mail, and passes back any received correspondence. This is of obvious use for connecting a business to the wider world of Internet mail, but it also allows a company to connect branch offices, or permits a travelling employee to stay in touch with head office.

    In short, this kind of service can provide the worldwide connections of Internet mail while taming the freedom/anarchy of full 'Net access. And Internet e-mail can be used for more than simple correspondence. With recent additions, such as the MIME multimedia extensions, sound and video can be attached to the formerly text-only mail. And surprisingly, many of the Internet's broader services can be accessed through a mail link: users can subscribe to Usenet groups, request files from Internet ftp libraries, even carry out an Internet Archie search for files or information. (Paul Gillster's Finding It On the Internet is a good book for learning these somewhat esoteric uses for the seemingly simple e-mail.)

    Costs at EMC can start around $100 per month for a 20-user network, increasing to $175 per month for a 100-user network. EMC doesn't see itself as competing with the more common Internet service providers--it has no plans to offer full-range Internet accounts. In fact, a company could maintain an account with an Internet service provider for selected users, while using EMC to offer Internet e-mail to everyone else on the company network.

    Current clients have networks ranging from seven to 700 users, and include such well-known names as the City of Vancouver, the Workers' Compensation Board and White Spot Restaurants. The Electric Mail Company can be reached in Vancouver by telephone at 926-7783 and by fax at 926-8018. Of course, it also has an e-mail address:, and can be reached on the Web at

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan