Getting "on-line" is almost certainly easier than you think. You don't need AOL, Yahoo, Earthlink, or any of those other MSS providers. Read about it here, or simply browse the entire glossary by clicking here.
1) You need to have a Personal Computer (PC) running one of the family of Windows® operating systems commonly available from Microsoft Corp.; equipped with a modem or connecting device and an application suitable for internet usage. Both the Microsoft internet explorer and it's attendant Outlook Express mail reader are included with all typical Windows installations.
2) You need a connection to the web. Usually access is made via the facilities of an ISP. Depending upon your needs or availability in your area, that might be as simple as a telephone number on a dial-up line, or as hearty as a cable or DSL adapter.
That's all you'll need to connect to the internet. At this point you can browse the web, and, if you use one of the MSS accounts that have "web based" eMail, you can send and receive your eMail straightaway.
3) Finally, if you want your own eMail account, you'll need to get a POP account. Most ISP's provide one or more of them as a matter of course along with your web access. You'll need to come up with an account name(s) and a password(s). Then, whenever you want to read your eMail, you simply let your mail reader connect to your POP account and download your eMail.
If you're a rank newbie, and completely flummoxed by computers and everything related to them and DON'T want to learn any more, then I suggest you use an MSS provider like AOL.
But, if you have a job, can drive a car, and can type (no, you don't need to be a techno-geek), I'd recommend that you learn how to use "real eMail" and dump any MSS crutches you might be using. Learn how to use the rich features and capabilities built right into your existing computer software. It will help to have someone already familiar with this available to get you over the inevitable startup hurdles and frustrations. But if you'll do that, the rewards are enormous!
The best rewards? CHEAPER! FASTER! No more flickering, jumping, or other attention grabbing ads and other page junk! LESS SPAM and other junk mail. No more annoying messages telling you to clean out your mailbox, remove things, and so on... Your eMail is downloaded onto your own computer. You can save/retrieve as many messages as you like. You can read and reply or save it at your leisure.