Steve Johnson scj at yaccman.com
Fri Mar 31 05:44:13 AEST 2017

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
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!).


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