RALEIGH – A web address that once meant a great deal to the building of Internet access across North Carolina is for sale. A sad fate for a once fast-growing Internet Service Provider called Interpath that launched its network 25 years ago on April 1.
That’s no joke.
A team of intrepid entrepreneurs huddled intently around computers and other gear as the proverbial switch was thrown at the Interpath HQ on Hillsborough Street (now home to Brooks Bell), connecting Interpath to the still-very-young Internet backbone. Thus Interpath broke away from a host connection that had been provided by MCNC since Interpath’s launch the previous fall.
For most millennials and those younger, imagining life without the Internet is nearly impossible. Long before the Internet of Things became the reality of today along with smartphones, ISPs such as Interpath and MCNC laid the foundation for today’s ubiquitous information highway.
At blazing speeds of 28.8 kps. That’s right 28.8. Interpath ventured into 28.8 territory when the modems were still new – doubling the standard 14.4. Imagine trying to deal with the web as we know it today at that kind of tardy pace.
Capitol Broadcasting Company under CEO Jim Goodmon launched Interpath after striking a deal to acquire MCNC’s fledgling Internet business the previous November. Charley Bratton as the network engineer, John Tomasetti as the software engineer, and The Skinny as vice president/general manager were the first three people given Goodmon’s challenging mission:
Build a private sector owned and operated Internet network from Manteo to Murphy – beach to mountains.
While Interpath was not the first ISP it was among the earliest in a day when most people, let alone businesses, had no real knowledge of what the Internet was – or could do. And what in the world was the world wide web?
No kidding? 25 years
Over the weekend, The Skinny reached out to two of the mentors for that effort – Paul Gilster, who wrote a technology column for The News and Observer and went on to author several best-selling Internet books, and Joe Ragland, who had directed the building of Internet services at MCNC. Gilster wrote the users’ guide for Interpath and Ragland mentored yours truly on how to achieve Goodmon’s aggressive mandate.
“No kidding, 25 years ago today?” Gilster wrote.
“I still echo Joe Ragland: ‘How come everybody got rich but us?’ ;-)”
At a luncheon to mark the 20th “birthday” of Interpath, Gilster put into perspective what the net meant to most people at the time.
“We have to remember that in 1994, ninety-nine percent of people didn’t know what the Internet was,” Paul said.
“Virtually no one knew where it was going,”
Goodmon’s goal was to build a network and eventually a profitable business, not to cash out. And Internet riches were still to come.
Interpath preceded what became known as the “dot com” revolution which became a frenzy of entrepreneurs looking to invent the next big thing – and cash out. (Goodmon later would be among the first to invest in an Internet streaming startup led by Mark Cuban – now a multi-billionaire.)
Paul now focuses on space exploration at his Centauri Dreams website . His “sig” in many ways captures what the Interpath team, which grew quickly from three to five then 10 then many more:
“You accomplish the great task by a series of small acts” – Lao Tzu
And that we did in aggressive but measured steps with Alan Clegg moving to Interpath from MCNC to implement the network, Jason Botts to lead customer support, Boatner Howell to offer training, and Chuck Crews to develop what would become our web publishing arm “WebPress.” The late Tom Hines came aboard as well as a senior executive. And over time, so many more – Mike Ramsey, Paul Lowell. The list goes on. Leah Chauncey joined us as general manager, Joe Harris in sales …
A dynamic, talented, group of people.
In less than two years the mandate was met – with two bonuses: Growth propelled Interpath into South Carolina and into suburban Washington, D.C. after landing USAirways as a client.
A ‘noble effort’
Joe retired shortly after Interpath was born and now lives in Wake Forest. Paul remains a Raleigh resident and a very active writer. “Writers never retire,” he once told me.
Looking back, Joe wrote me:
“It is hard to believe Interpath is 25. It was a noble effort for all involved and provided enlightened understanding that likely helps those involved in Internet matters today.”
On the foundation built by ISPs such as Interpath and MCNC came technological advances based on Internet Protocol to set the stage for so much of what we enjoy today, such as broadband and streaming.
CBC later sold Interpath to CP&L and over time the company disappeared. But its legacy remains as helping create what the Internet has become.
“I recently switched to a streaming provider for my TV, retaining just a broadband Internet connection,” Joe wrote. “This reminds me of the first Internet streaming which we did between RTP and a hotel in downtown DC. It was for a national networking conference sponsored by the National Science Foundation. To demo video on the Internet NSF asked IBM to come up with a way to do video conferencing.
“The electronics was big and ran hot but we were able to talk and look face to face between the two sites. The RTP end was at MCNC and during the conference when we were not talking to each other the MCNC video control room punched up channel 5 and we could watch WRAL from the conference floor in DC.
“I recall saying to Steve Wolff, then NSF networking head, that we might be treading on FCC rules. Steve’s reply was we probably are but we’ll take care of that if there is a complaint. I believe this was the first TV on the Internet, now it appears streaming is the way of the future.
“We have come a long way over these 25 years.”
Indeed. At a trade show in 1995 Interpath’s Howell demonstrated something called VoIP – voice over Internet Protocol – which today is the bedrock of our telecommunications.
So here’s a tip of The Skinny’s cap to Mr. Goodmon and all the men and women who helped turn Interpath from a concept into a reality so many years ago.