On October 22, 1994, I was hired by Chris Ward of then California Online to answer phones and perform other basic office tasks for his rapidly growing little company. He had recently purchased a blazing 56K Frame Relay connection from North Bay Networks, and had moved from being a small dialup BBS to a genuine Internet Service Provider.
I had been out of work for the better part of three years up until then, so I was happy to have the work. I had also been dabbling in UNIX for many years before then, and hoped to put those skills to work.
That first day, Chris asked me to check the voicemail. It was full, with more than 70 inquiries from people wanting Internet access. I was stunned. But I also realized I was on the brink of a revolution.
Shortly before Chris hired me, he had formed a business partnership with Mark Shapiro, who published West Coast Online, a free monthly journal of various things online/internet. Chris wanted to leverage the readership of that publication to build the internet connectivity business. Mark and Chris were 50/50 partners. California Online became West Coast Online, wco.com.
Over the course of the next three years, WCO grew at a tremendous pace. I became - by default - the administrator of the unix systems. I eventually invested a small amount in the company, and Mark and Chris gave me four percent ownership for it. It paid off very well in 1997 when we sold the company to Verio, Inc.
Unfortunately, Verio didn't care about what we'd built, and almost immediately gutted the company, laid off all the employees but me and a couple of others, and closed our offices, absorbing WCO's customers into their existing infrastructure.
I could write several dozen screens about the genesis of verio's 'borging' of wco, but it would just make me very angry, so i'll save myself the grief.
WCO was a labor of love for me. I wish we'd never sold (though the financial reality was that we had to sell, or we'd have gone belly up in short order). WCO had incredible customer loyalty, and just about the lowest churn in the industry at that time.
Thus, it was The Best Damned ISP That Ever Was.
I should note here, that by maintaining this copy of WCO's website from a time shortly before the company was purchased by Verio, I am quite likely violating Verio's copyright, as they purchased WCO lock, stock, and barrel.
You know what my response to that is? screw 'em. I built it, they destroyed it. If i want to maintain a tiny memorial to something I helped build, I damned well will, and if they don't like it, they can shove it up their datapipe.
it should be self-evident by this point that i have strong feelings about this.
I will note, however, that in fairness, verio ultimately redeemed themselves to some extent. They built a national network infrastructure that rivaled the other large backbone providers. Virtually every business i've participated in since then has had connectivity through Verio (Advanced TelCom Group, Vista Broadband, Smile Internet Networks), and it has served reliably over those years. I'll still never forgive them for having tossed the extraordinary customer good will that WCO built.