I know I’m not the only one to have this happen, but I’d like to relate my experience of calling BBSes in the early ’90s.
I was late to the party as far as getting a modem. I had an Apple //c from mid 1984, but it wasn’t connected to a network in any way, unless you include “sneaker net.” At some point, I picked up a 2400 baud modem from one of the ads in the back of Incider, and things changed.
I already had my own phone line in my room, for which I paid 100% of the bill. I spent the first couple of days calling any local number that I could find. There was a list of Detroit area BBSes, and I had some phone numbers from the crack screens as well. Not all of them were BBSes. I recall one of the crack screens had a listing for the FBI with a 313 area code number. I assumed it was the number of a BBS called FBI. Imagine my surprise when the phone was answered by… you guessed it, the Detroit FBI field office.
Near the tail end of the BBS era, systems were harder and harder to come by, so I started to reach out a bit farther. I convinced myself that I could call the Byte Bastards BBS (in New York – 212 area code) on a limited basis. If I called in, just to check messages, and see if there were any interesting downloads, it would cost that much. Or so I thought.
Connecting to, and interacting with these systems was addictive. It didn’t help that sometimes, the sysop was around, and would break in, and you would be having a one on one chat with someone… over the computer.
In hindsight, I really was flying blindly. I don’t remember whether or not I even called Michigan Bell to find out what the long distance rate would be to call Byte Bastards.
I remember calling every evening, I’d read the boards, check for email, and then log off. I’m sure there were some downloads in there as well. The first bill after this started was larger, but manageable. I was still working a minimum wage job, and making a couple hundred dollars every two weeks.
The second bill was over the top. It was over FIVE HUNDRED dollars. That was more than I made in a month. I think I called, and tried to make some arrangements to split that bill over time, and I told myself I needed to cut back.
Even that didn’t help. I’m sure there was some lag between that second bill being sent, and me realizing the hole that I had dug. When the third bill arrived, it was also over $500. Here I was, just out of high school, with two phone bill in a row tat would take up 100% of my gross pay. I threw in the towel, let the phone get disconnected, and worked to pay it off as quickly as I could.
I don’t remember what warez I could have downloaded from that BBS, but I can guarantee that even that could not cover the cost of those telephone bills.
The real rub is that this was just months before I would get access to a local dialup from the university I attended, which would open up so many more possibilities for $0 / minute.
</TLDR> When I started to call an “elite” BBS that was long distance, I racked up over $1000 in telephone bills.