Rick was not on the USENIX board at that time. I had to explain who he was
to some board members. -jsq
On Mar 30, 2017 15:44, "Steve Johnson" <scj(a)yaccman.com> wrote:
I had some private email from a couple of this
list's members, asking
about the relationship between UUNET and Usenix. I presume some
questions arose because Rick Adams was on the Usenix board, and, although
we on the Usenix board tried to be open about things it's been
a while, and apparently some people remain suspicious about what
happened. They urged me to share this history with the list:
I'm happy to share my memories of how UUNET came to be associated with,
and later disassociated from Usenix.
At the time, newsgroups were growing in popularity. To get a usegroup
delivered, you had to talk with someone who got the newsgroups and get them
to agree to call your computer and deliver it -- all communication was
through modems and phone calls. The traffic was growing rapidly and it was
clear that we were heading for a brick wall. Some universities and
private companies found themselves with computer phone bills of $10,000 a
month or higher, and some critical nodes lived in daily fear that somebody
was going to notice this and shut it down. Because the network was made
up of individually negotiated links, this was likely to lead to a snowball
effect if it got started,
Also, at the time Usenix had a lot of cash. We were budgeting
conferences to have 1000 attendees and getting 2500. We decided as a board
to offer to help people who could propose a plan to prevent this Usenet
collapse, and sent out a fairly broad plea to our members for project
proposals. We received two. The first was Lauren Weinstein's, to use
cable to distribute netnews, and we agreed to help him purchase some
equipment to upload digital signals to be sent in the "screen refresh"
signal time (that sounds so dated today!) from a satellite to cable TV.
He was able to run a successful experiment, but the cable companies and
Lauren never managed to get together to carry it further.
The other proposal was Rick Adams. He had already formed a company (to my
knowledge, the first of what would be called ISPs) and he proposed an
agreement to distribute netnews at a low cost if we could help him upgrade
his computer equipment to handle the increased load. We sought legal help
to make sure we were not messing up our nonprofit status, and settled on
the following: Usenix would guarantee a loan (I recall the amount was
roughly $250,000) that he would get from a bank, and he would distribute
netnews at a low cost. I was treasurer at the time, and went with Rick to
talk to the bank. We agreed to open a savings account at the bank and put
$250,000 into it for the duration of the loan -- since we had a lot of
cash, this was no problem for us. In the event that Rick failed, we would
pay any balance of the loan. And we asked Rick for regular financial
statements for the duration of the loan.
As everyone knows now, RIck was extremely successful (he had about 5 years
of growth at about 15% per month(!) as I recall). After several years,
Rick's budget was several times the size of Usenix's, and we mutually
agreed to dissolve the agreement. Rick paid off the loan, and the netnews
disaster never happened.
Looking back on this, there is not a thing I would have done differently
(except perhaps to buy some stock in uunet!).