Founders Blog

Well, here it is 12 years after I sold the greatest business I ever owned. So the adventure begins again, this timeĀ  a little older, hopefully a whole lot wiser.

Hi. My name is Joe Portman.

Back in late 1994 I founded a little part time ISP in my home office. It’s name was Alternate Access Inc. ( It was never intended to grow into a multi-million dollar enterprise, but it did.

The story: I had been active on the Internet long before 1994. In 1984 I moved to Seattle and began working as a programmer. We were porting software from Datapoint hardware to Xenix boxen. I was totally new to Xenix, but I liked it. I had a modem and was exploring bulletin boards when I ran across this thing called usenet on one. Well, I decided I wanted a usenet feed. So, I sent out a call for uucp partners and ended up with three, Fluke, Microsoft and one I can’t recall. Back then, uucp was the main transport for email. All us oldtimers know that “all bangs lead to ihnp4!”.

Time moves on, fast forward to about 1991. NSF is opening the Internet to the public, allowing “commercial” use and a few providers begin offering some access, albeit at high prices. I knew the Internet was a tremendous resource, but it was geeks only. You had to have quite a bit of knowledge to navigate the ‘Net, since http wasn’t around yet.

I had finagled myself a dedicated SLIP line (14.4k) and was using ARCHIE and GOPHER on a regular basis. One evening a friend emails me about this cool new program, Mosaic, that lets you navigate just by clicking on “links”. I downloaded it and it blew my mind. I knew right away that this was the killer app that would popularize the net. Just like VISICALC made the pc popular, point and click would allow anyone to browse the Internet.

I wish I could say that the idea of starting a provider was born right there, but it actually came later (a lot later). What I wanted was faster access. That’s it. All I wanted was the kind of access that only Boeing, UoW and other large entities enjoyed. So I started calling around, getting prices. Wow, they were astronomical. Thousands of dollars per month for a 56K frame relay line. I knew that demand would drive prices down (eventually) but I didn’t have that kind of spare cash.

Then, the light bulb goes off: I can buy that line, put in some modems and let other people use the line and they will pay for the cost. I’ll get my ‘Net for free (money for nothin’ too).

So that’s how I entered the ‘Biz. I just wanted some good ‘Net for myself. But, as we know, the story did not end there. More later.

Joe Portman