Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Networking

Barry Shein Founded the First Dialup ISP (Video) 116

Posted by Roblimo
from the not-everybody-loved-the-idea-of-putting-the-masses-online dept.
Back in the dawn of prehistory, only universities, government agencies, and a few big corporations could get on the Internet. The rest of us either had computers connected to nothing (except maybe an electric outlet), Compuserve, Prodigy, AOL or another service or possibly to an online bulletin board service (BBS). And then, one day in 1989, Barry Shein hooked a server and some modems to an Internet node he managed for a corporate/academic wholesale Internet provider -- and started selling dialup accounts for $20 per month to individuals, small companies, and just about anyone else who came along. Barry called his ISP The World, which is still out there with a retro home page ("Page last modified April 27, 2006"), still selling shell accounts. We may run a second interview with Barry next week, so please stay tuned. (Alternate Video Link)

Robin Miller: Once upon a time there were no ISPs; if you wanted to be on the internet, you needed to be a government agency or a university or something along those lines. And then along came Barry, yes I know it sounds like a bad country western song, along came John, but here he is, and he came up with the first commercial ISP, so please, how sir did this happen?

Barry: Well, in 1989, in the summer, late summer, I got the idea to start offering email and similar accounts to people on a server we had, but we weren’t on the internet, we were on something called UUCP, which just used dial-up, just used modem-to-modem between servers and then one day the CEO of UUNET, who was a good friend of mine, called and he said, would you be willing to host me? Now they were selling wholesale high-speed internet connections to corporations. He said would you be willing to host a rack of equipments in your offices so I could service my customers in Boston. He was down near Washington DC, this company and growing. And I said, of course. And, he said, what do you want in return? And I said, all the bits I can eat. And he said what does that mean? And I said, you know, I want to put these customers I have directly on the internet. He said, sure, no problem, you got a T1, which back then was pretty hot actually, like half megabits, I know it sounds not much today but it was pretty good.

So we did and so we continued offering accounts and of course we added that, now on the internet, you can do internety things, whatever that meant in 1989; there was no web yet, there was no browsers, but you know, people exchanged email, we had a shell server, they could use various email programs, FTPs, they could Telnet. We had quite a few consultants for example who simply needed to be able to make a local call in Boston hook up to us and Telnet saying through a machine in California. There was no SSA chip. So that was a boon to them. They found us quickly. So that was it and so for the first time we were putting the general public on the internet for around $20 a month. I'd already put several companies on the internet and I had been involved with the internet quite a few years. I put Boston University on the internet.

I was at Boston University, worked in the computing center. I was a graduate student. So I was pretty well known already, which helped, by the powers that be. You know the internet governors as it were in 1989.... It was a small club, the internet. We knew each other. We knew each other by name. So people were like, what are you doing? I said, I am letting people dial in through the internet and they are like, you can’t do that and I said, I am charging them money and they were like, I think that’s illegal. I think what you’re doing is illegal. You know, I would get these angry mails telling me I couldn’t do this. They weren’t quite sure why and then NSF that kind of sort of indicated that, that’s kind of interesting. We know you. Could you do this? Why don’t we call this an experiment? An NSF experiment? Then everybody would be okay with it legally. And I said sure, call it whatever you like, you know, but I got customers, you know I’m having a 1,000 customers, whatever, dialing into the internet already while we were talking about this. Then I didn’t hear much else from them. I mean that sort of calmed things down when NSF, National Science Foundation spoke. They were running most of the academic or the entire academic and research network, all those, like BARnet and you know, all of the kind of, like SURFnet, and they were in charge. Steve Wolf was in charge other than MILNET for European networks which of course were charging themselves. There were not many of them. They were their own entity and they interconnected with the American Networks.

Robin Miller: You know interestingly, wait a minute, so you are saying you started out with a 1,000 paying customers, just got them on to the internet?

Barry: Yes, on that order, few hundred, I don’t know what it was, I am saying that by the time we were negotiating, whether this was even legal I already had about 1000 customers probably.

Robin Miller: And that’s quite a considerable number, considering what the Internet wasn’t back then.

Barry: Yeah. Well, we are out of time and we were trying to make money. I didn’t have much capital, but I would literally print up flyers, 8.5x11 cheap paper flyers, go over to universities and hand them out. That was in college or Boston University, again I was just standing in front and hand it to anybody walking by like it was a political thing. Something we mined quite actively was when we later made a nice brochure, a little trifled brochure because we realized that when people were laid off, it had gotten pretty bad. When people were laid off at companies like DEC where they had internet access, they had no other way to get internet access. Of course, as they were laid off, their access was shut down. You never give away open employee access to your network.

Robin Miller: No.

Barry: So, we then went to HR of these companies that were doing lay-offs. We sent brochures saying, well here is something you can hand to a customer on the exit and we’re happy to accommodate them. And of course people who have used the Internet, used the internet to find new jobs. So it was worth something for them. We had customer all over the world, remember in total about January and so for months, till almost spring, I had a monopoly on the internet, on the public internet.

Robin Miller: Doug Humphrey

Barry: It was nowhere else. I’d get customers from what?

Robin Miller: Doug Humphrey, right behind you, down in Maryland. You remember him?

Barry: Who?

Robin Miller: Doug Humphrey.

Barry: Yeah, I speak with him all the time.

Robin Miller: He wasn’t that far behind you, I know because my friend Danny Setzer called me, he ran a cab company in Baltimore. I worked there some and he was saying, we can get internet accounts now, we can get internet accounts, you call this guy Doug and you give him $19 a month and you have the internet. You have a shell account and you have email to everybody and you can even see the website. And I said, what’s a website and he was talking about the Stanford Linear Accelerator project website and Paul who ran that and who I have since met, and who has since moved to St. Petersburg, Florida after he retired. But yeah, I jumped on it, if I had gotten one of your flyers, I would have been, yes, sign me up. So it worked.

Barry: Yeah. It was exciting and of course, as you know, very few people knew what it was. So it was kind of a hard sell. I mean you got your first several hundred or thousand, and then it really slowed down, and we told people, well we told people that hadn’t already been on the internet. Their reaction usually was, well what would I do with it? _____10:24 or AOL, which were not on the Internet but you know they had fancy interfaces and all. Yeah, they already had an internal structure with discussion groups and that sort of thing. And I said, I don’t know, this is more a free for all, you know we don’t control it, we just give you access to it. And they were like well, may be, okay. You really got that like, they hadn’t heard of the internet and they thought it was like something new. Iit would be like selling ham radio licenses.

I was first on the internet at around 1977, maybe 1978. I had almost continuous internet access through that whole early era. To me it was... I almost always found a way to set up a modem at home, set up a terminal and a modem. Back in the old day, I had dumb terminals at home. Now we got a Z19 or I had a Beehive terminal, something somebody sold me used, it was a big clump, I think I still have it in the next room. It had so little memory that you had to account for highlighted characters because you could have 80 characters on a line but if someone highlighted, that’s twice as much – you could only have 40 highlighted characters. I mean, this was an era of bit counting.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Barry Shein Founded the First Dialup ISP (Video)

Comments Filter:
  • First? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by shameless (100182) on Monday August 04, 2014 @06:16PM (#47603081) Homepage

    I want to say "First", but I also want to say that I knew Barry back when he started this whole thing. Congrats on your staying power!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It looks like he is still using dialup.

  • by hondo77 (324058) on Monday August 04, 2014 @06:39PM (#47603213) Homepage
    The company I worked for was dialing into UUNET [wikipedia.org] back in 1987/88. Why aren't they considered the first?
    • by praxis (19962)

      Was the company you worked for reselling dialup to anyone who paid them?

      • by hondo77 (324058)
        No but we were paying UUNET.
        • I think the key world here is "dial-up". Was UUNET offering modems you could dial into over public telephone network at that time?

        • If I recall correctly UUNET didn't offer IP based access until the early 90s. Prior to that it was just limited access to emails and some file transfer.

    • by jsm300 (669719)
      UUNET was not providing internet connections at that time. They started out as a UUCP service provider, primarily providing email and Usenet feeds via uucp. So sometimes people will say they are the first ISP, just like people will claim Compuserve, Prodigy and AOL were all ISP's back then. But The World was the first true ISP providing access to the Internet, which probably wasn't all that exciting for the general public at that point.
      • by paiute (550198)

        the Internet, which probably wasn't all that exciting for the general public at that point.

        Are you kidding? Don't you remember the excitement of going to Yahoo and seeing what new sites had come online the day before? The list had a dozen some days.

        • by jsm300 (669719)
          Are you talking about websites? Because I can't imagine people were all that excited about new telnet, ftp or gopher sites. If you're talking websites then your timeline is a little off. The World became the first ISP in 1989. Tim Berners-Lee created the first website in December 1990, but didn't really advertise the fact (and make a web browser available) until August of 1991.
          • by paiute (550198)
            Yes - in the mid-to-late 1990s Yahoo had a list every day of the websites that had come online the day before. In the beginning the lists were short.
    • The company I worked for was dialing into UUNET [wikipedia.org] back in 1987/88. Why aren't they considered the first

      Because UUnet didn't offer dial-up TCP/IP connectivity (or Inter-networking) back in the 1980's, they offered dial-up UUCP (unix-to-unix-copy) services for Usenet (NetNews) and email (with ! (bang) addresses).

      They offered backbone IP access in 1990 via its AlterNet service based on the Wikipedia article you linked.

      plcurechax@slashdot.org!sf.net!...!uunet

  • This was pretty sweet back in the day http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T... [wikipedia.org] (Not to be confused with Telnet)

  • Just had a good laugh with my wife. We got our first dialup account with The World back in the early 90's. Wrote my first scripts because of that account (and the usenet).

  • damn those were heady days. Substantive discussions. Thoughtful comments. My how things have degraded in just about any forum you care to pick.
  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportlandNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Monday August 04, 2014 @07:41PM (#47603543) Homepage Journal

    Dialing into a BBS, bouncing into a schools system and then access the net not considered the first dialup isp?
    Something I did in '83.

    • by istartedi (132515)

      I'm guessing it's because the BBS operator didn't sell that as a reliable service. You knew those machines were there. You knew you could route through the BBS to those machines. You had passwords for those machines.

      If your BBS's sysop had known a teacher or something, gotten a password, and then re-sold that service... TROUBLE.

      FWIW, I was a bit taken aback by TFA because I was under the impression that there was no commercial dial-up Internet until some kind of law was passed in the early 90s, and that

      • by rs79 (71822)

        No.

        Anybody could connect to the uucp network, it was ad-hoc and came with unix all out of bell labs and written by private industry.

        The TCP/IP network otoh, was paid for by USG research dollars which the USG thinks gives them statutory authority over it, hence the dns and ip regime in place now which is effectively government control, not the private industry control that exists over the network itself.

        At the time the NSF regulated IP transit with the AUP; Steve Wolff, who Barry mentioned, was in charge of

      • by geekoid (135745)

        "I'm guessing it's because the BBS operator didn't sell that as a reliable service"
        Actually, he did.

        "If your BBS's sysop had known a teacher or something, gotten a password, and then re-sold that service... TROUBLE."
        Trouble, on the internet? say it ain't so!

        The 90's was about business being able to use the internet more then ir was about the common citizen accessing it.

    • by Guy Harris (3803)

      Dialing into a BBS, bouncing into a schools system and then access the net not considered the first dialup isp?

      Because you're not getting IP packets sent to or by your machine's IP protocol stack over that dialup connection.

  • Before I got a Sysop account at Compuserve, I paid $9.95 if memory serves.
    All the companies were there to download updates from, you could download libraries, utilities, examples, FAQs and Howtos, talk with the programmers, whine to the quality assurance people, you could buy books, jeans and coffee an some other stuff, play multiplayer games (all text) send email to the world, read usenet newsgroups, get email newsletters (tweets with no limit, for the young whippersnappers amongst you) and later also use

    • by Guy Harris (3803)

      Before I got a Sysop account at Compuserve, I paid $9.95 if memory serves. All the companies were there to download updates from, you could download libraries, utilities, examples, FAQs and Howtos, talk with the programmers, whine to the quality assurance people, you could buy books, jeans and coffee an some other stuff, play multiplayer games (all text) send email to the world, read usenet newsgroups, get email newsletters (tweets with no limit, for the young whippersnappers amongst you) and later also use the web.

      Why would people pay the double for what exactly?

      The ability to connect to an arbitrary Internet-based service with a client program that connects using TCP?

      Perhaps what you describe was adequate for the vast majority of users, but somebody who wanted direct access to the Internet, including, for example, the ability to (perhaps slooooowly) FTP to an available Internet FTP site would welcome it.

      • by nospam007 (722110) *

        "Perhaps what you describe was adequate for the vast majority of users, but somebody who wanted direct access to the Internet, including, for example, the ability to (perhaps slooooowly) FTP to an available Internet FTP site would welcome it."

        CIS had an FTP client as well.

        • by rs79 (71822)

          That's nice. It's still compu$serve.

          If you knew what you were doing you didn't pay for net, that's the advantage to store and forward uucp over always-on IP.

    • by mattack2 (1165421)

      You paid $9.95 AN HOUR, didn't you? They said $20/month.

  • It even took 30 seconds for the TheWorld.com web page to load, just like a real dialup line!
  • I don't know who really can make that claim but Intelecom Data Systems in Rhode Island was offering dialup Internet access to the public in 1987, including SLIP (and later PPP.)
    • by bmo (77928)

      I don't think he had Internet access in 1987. That came a bit later, I believe. Certainly not on the Microvax. Andy didn't charge for access to the machine when it was a BBS which probably saved his butt.

      Lots of time spent in Vax Multi-User Moria and VMS Phone.

      I believe Daver was 12 or something when he wrote the full-screen editor for the BBS.

      --
      BMO

  • Add $5.00/month for unlimited* dial-up.

    * Unlimited does not mean 24 by 7 connectivity. It means unmetered, interactive usage. Sessions inactive for more than 20 minutes are subject to disconnection. Attempts to defeat inactivity detection may result in additional charges or termination of service.

    IF IT'S FUCKING LIMITED, DON'T FUCKING CALL IT UNLIMITED!

    How hard is it to just say "Add $5.00/month for unmetered, interactive usage" without an asterisk and a bunch of bullshit between "Add $5" and the description of what you actually get for your five bucks?

    • by rs79 (71822)

      You weren't there. Clearly.

      You're used to dialing with ISDN or DSL and have it connect?

      That's adorable.

      Know what you got 90% of the time when you dialed up with a modem back then? A busy signal.

      That's cause for every modem that existed, 5 guys wanted to use it. This went on until cable and dsl, late 90s or so.

      So it was considered rude to dial up, then go away and leave it connected when you weren't using it and people were waiting.

      Free ISP's (there were many, Barry was just the first pay-for one) would jut

      • by sootman (158191)

        I first went online with a brand-new, crazy-fast 14.4 that I had to set the DIP switches on in 1995. So I wasn't there in 1989, but I'm not a total noob, either. Busy signals 90% of the time? Not in 1995. You're exaggerating just a shade, perhaps. Maybe once every couple days I couldn't connect, but I usually got through on the second call, and pretty much always by the third. I didn't get cable until 2000 or so.

        I have no problem with how he runs his business -- phone lines, idle time, etc., yeah, I get tha

    • by geekoid (135745)

      It's cute that you get angry, but everyone know what it meant because you know what limited meant? metered.
      You have no clue of the context of the time, so stifle your outrage, newb.

      • by anagama (611277)

        Like you I have no qualms with the "unlimited" description. Back then, when you wanted to use any network service, you dialed in, probably on your only phone line, which before voicemail service (or as an expensive extra charge), meant people got a busy signal if trying to call you. When you were done online, you'd disconnect to free up the phone line for yourself as well as the ISP's modem for other users' use.

        What was cool about an "unlimited" plan, of course, was that you didn't have to worry about rac

    • by Dishevel (1105119)
      I find it cute when children come out and decide to speak on the issues of man. They are of course wrong, but we should encourage them so they can learn.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Ok, this guy in my post here is not Barry Shein. Posting anonymously just in case someone can figure out who it is...

    Anyway I was a sysadmin on some Unix and VMS machines at one work site. At one point I hooked into Usenet via another department within the company, but was always a bit nervous about it as this was a large defense contractor that was paranoid about any outside network connections. I only wanted the technical newsgroups and some access to external email but I did allow a few choice non-tec

    • by rs79 (71822)

      "(local for-sale stuff and the like)"

      ie., porn.

      This fueled a lot of the early net. I knew an deign engineer that wanted the engineering groups. They wouldn't spring for a uunet feed from DC to Irvine so buddy got smart and gve his boss a floppy of porn from home. He said you get one of these every week if I get a full feed, Capish? He got a full feed and friday afternoons had to download and pay the porn tax. You did what you to, that connection in Irvine was at the time strategically important to the growt

  • Portland had "agora" in 1985. PDxs and Teleport joined in 1987.

    • by Guy Harris (3803)

      Portland had "agora" in 1985. PDxs and Teleport joined in 1987.

      With all three of them routing packets between a host on the other end of a dialup SLIP connection (not PPP, the first RFCs for that came out in 1989 [ietf.org]) and the Internet? If not, they weren't ISPs, they were providers of other dialup services.

      • by rs79 (71822)

        Why? The IP network was tiny back then and the uucp network was enormous ans had all the apps. There were no people passing packet back then because nobody wanted to - they didn't need to. You could get everything the network had to offer via uucp.

        Except telnet. But there was nowhere to telnet to. Back then if you needed to telnet you had a line in your house. What else would your boss say "ok, we need you to telnet it. I hear a third ISP opened in the US, so use that."

        • by Dishevel (1105119)
          So the first manufacturer of cars was a stable guy in North Africa. Because there were no roads and not many other cars so you could get everywhere by horse. Right?
        • by Guy Harris (3803)

          Why? The IP network was tiny back then and the uucp network was enormous ans had all the apps. There were no people passing packet back then because nobody wanted to - they didn't need to. You could get everything the network had to offer via uucp.

          OK, so there wasn't much of a market for ISPs back then, and most organizations offering dialup services weren't ISPs, they provided UUCP access or UNIX shell access or a BBS or....

          So, if neither agora nor PDxs nor Teleport offered your machine the ability to directly transmit IP packets to and receive IP packets from hosts on the Internet, they may have offered very useful services, but they weren't ISPs, and thus do not count as evidence that The World wasn't the first dialup ISP.

          If you want to prove th

          • agora was. I know because I had it. I know because a friend and I convinced Alan Batie (the owner/operator) to install a SLIP daemon in 1987.

            Many years later, I worked at Intel, and looked up Alan. I had to introduce myself to the man that, to me, "gave me the Internet." He remembered me. (Or my user name, anyway.) I was more flattered by that at the time than if a sports star or president had told me they remembered me.

  • I was dialing up to Freenets back in 1988, paying for 'privileged' access (though they were non-profit) and was using email, archie, gopher, IRC, etc... Wouldn't this be considered an ISP?

    • by Guy Harris (3803)

      I was dialing up to Freenets back in 1988, paying for 'privileged' access (though they were non-profit) and was using email, archie, gopher, IRC, etc... Wouldn't this be considered an ISP?

      Only if you could send IP packets directly onto the Internet and receive IP packets directly from the Internet, which would seem to imply that they were Freenets in a sense other than this sense of Freenet [freenetproject.org] ("Freenet is a self-contained network, while Tor allows accessing the web anonymously, as well as using "hidden services" (anonymous web servers). Freenet is not a proxy: You cannot connect to services like Google or Facebook using Freenet." And, no, "Google and Facebook didn't exist at the time" is not

      • As I stated, I used Archie [wikipedia.org], Gopher [wikipedia.org] and IRC.. and as I just remembered EW-Too chat prgrams and MUDs/MUSHes/Etc... and was connecting to them directly from a shell account.... so by your definition that falls under ISP.

        • by Guy Harris (3803)

          As I stated, I used Archie [wikipedia.org], Gopher [wikipedia.org] and IRC.. and as I just remembered EW-Too chat prgrams and MUDs/MUSHes/Etc... and was connecting to them directly from a shell account.... so by your definition that falls under ISP.

          OK, I guess I didn't make it clear enough.

          If you can send IP packets over your dialup connection and have them routed onto the Internet, and have IP packets from the Internet routed to your machine over the dialup connection, you're dialed into an ISP.

          If you have to dial up a host and log in to getty over that dialup connection, then you're dialed up to a UNIX shell service provider, not an ISP, even if the UNIX host you've logged into happens to be connected to the Internet.

          If a UUCP program on your mac

      • by geekoid (135745)

        No.
        UUCP was the 'internet' until TCP/IP became more popular. The first personal computers used UUCP to connect to the internet.
        By internet, I mean the hardware and lines. TCP/IP is not the internet. It's an internet protocol. A way to tonnect to communicate vie 'the internet'.

        Here, let me help you out:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U... [wikipedia.org]

        • by Guy Harris (3803)

          No. UUCP was the 'internet' until TCP/IP became more popular. The first personal computers used UUCP to connect to the internet. By internet, I mean the hardware and lines. TCP/IP is not the internet. It's an internet protocol. A way to tonnect to communicate vie 'the internet'.

          The Internet, with a capital "I", as in "Internet Service Provider", uses the Internet protocol suite (IP, UDP, TCP, etc.), not UUCP, although UUCP can run over TCP. I don't care what you mean by "internet", with a lower-case "i"; as we're talking about who was the first Internet-with-a-capital-I service provider, what you mean by "internet" is completely irrelevant.

          Here, let me help you out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U... [wikipedia.org]

          Here, let me help you out [wikipedia.org]. You may recognize a name that appears several times on that page; why giving me the URL of a page that I have edit

  • I had raw IP dialup in 1989 in Tucson, Arizona. It's so long ago, that I don't recall the name of the company, but they were not new in 1989. And, there were other options.
  • I remember their daily message (msgs) had "Hello, world -- dmr" for the longest time. Also that Barry had very long discussions with NSFNet folks (Steven Wolffe?) about AUP, as the first commercial ISP.
    • by rich_salz (612602)

      Someone sent me a copy:

      From uunet!research.att.com!dmr Tue Oct 17 03:35:50 1989
      Return-Path:
      Received: from uunet.UUCP by world.std.com (4.0/SMI-4.0)
      id AA27107; Tue, 17 Oct 89 03:35:50 EDT
      From: uunet!research.att.com!dmr
      Received: from inet.att.com by uunet.uu.net (5.61/1.14) with SMTP
      id AA15993

  • I signed up for a World account in the first days of his operation, and still maintain my account there. It remains my main email account of last resort, even though I have two email domains now. The interviewer and Barry perhaps didn't know about the dialup BBSing that went on before there was a commodity internet available. As a note, I dialed up to his system in Boston for about 2 or 3 bucks an hour, so it wasn't cheap, but it didn't break the bank either. (From Irvine, Ca.). Later a company here in

Top Ten Things Overheard At The ANSI C Draft Committee Meetings: (8) I'm on the committee and I *still* don't know what the hell #pragma is for.

Working...