Once upon a time, there was a bright (perhaps more in the sense of "sparkling excitement" than any other) young lad who had recently discovered the world of BBS's. A little less recently, he had studied Unix V6(!) in his operating systems class, and thought it was The Thing. On April 2, 1984, he joined the Wonderful World of Intel (which was especially wonderful, as he needed the money pretty badly about then, and they almost immediately sent him to Germany. Twice.) The implications of "what if" he had been hired a day earlier continue to evoke amusement...
It was also not long after he started Intel, that he discovered Scrap Sales. Sometime in 1985, although the exact date is now lost in antiquity, he had managed to put together a Multibus I system running Xenix-286, and skeeve was born. Well, OK, it didn't look like that until 1989, but that's the earliest picture of it I have. As you can see, it benefited substantially from the periodic scrap sale, and in particular, the donation of a small pickup load from someone who had been going to scrap sales far longer. His manager also kindly allowed him to borrow a few odds and ends that were no longer being used in the group he was in, and somewhere in there, due to a conflict in the UUCP namespace, the name was changed to agora.
By this point in time, agora was consuming enough electricity that the apartment heat was only needed for the two weeks a year that the temperature outside went below freezing, and air conditioning was required in the summer (whenever the outside temperature went over 90F, the system crashed). Thus, by the spring of 1990, with a few $120 electric bills in the middle of summer, it was time to make the move: buy a 386 and run SVR4. It was also about this time that a small fee became necessary to cover the cost of the phone lines, and even though it was still purely a hobby, there are ethical considerations when charging for access to even partially borrowed hardware.
Ahhhhh. The relief of being able to port code without worrying about Vax programmers who thought all pointers were integers. No more segments (for practical purposes). Speed. Low power bills. More phone lines.
Ah yes. Phone lines. Lemmee tell you about phone lines. Now that our subject had SVR4, with TCP/IP and all, and there being several other hacker sorts around town who'd been eyeing the Internet with envy for sometime, it was time to see if something could be done locally. RAINet was thus born in the fall of 1990, and its first connection was a 2400 bps SLIP link between agora and parsely (another local public access system, owned by Tod Oace at the time). Since then, RAINet, Inc. was spawned off, and the original RAINet was referred to as FreeRAIN, though it's now pretty much non-existant as commercial offerings have become available.
With the growth of agora (picture taken in early 1993), plus the growth of RAINet, plus individual voice and fax lines, there was a peak of around 40 POTS* lines, a 56K Frame Relay line and a T1 line into the house.
Those little boxes littering the wall. are basically voice demultiplexors. There aren't enough physical wires into the neighborhood, so the phone company multiplexes two voice channels onto one pair of wires, and those boxes split the two channels back out, often with "value added" (noise).
With the SysAdmin experience gained thus far, plus the networking experience gained from RAINet, our intrepid explorer was able to make the jump into a support group at his real job, helped write a mail gateway, created the original version of www.intel.com and played with internal web servers while getting paid for it. He went on to work on a project to encourage multicast deployment on the Internet, along with bandwidth reservation, so that we can all do audio and video reliably. That morphed into a project to encrypt audio/video, which was then spun out as a separate company. That lasted a year, then was sold to another company that was already doing that sort of thing, and that lasted about 6 months --- having survived the first round of layoffs at 3 months into the new company, was not so lucky the second round a few months later.
On the plus side, he could devote his full attention to the ISP business hoping it could be grown into something that can actually support him for a change...unfortunately, his marketing skills didn't prove up to the task...but more on that later.
One of the changes that this attention resulted in was moving agora to a colocation facility in the Pittock Building in downtown Portland with the phone lines coming into an Ascend Max 4000 terminal server over a PRI (ISDN Primary Rate Interface --- basically 23 digital phone lines over a single pair of copper wires). This allowed for a speed increase for dialups from 33.6kbps to 56kbps.
Agora remained at the Pittock for a few years, then moved in with some friends who run a web development business.
In 2004, it was clear that agora was never going to support anyone, and having spent his savings trying, Alan moved to Corvallis to work for a real ISP, Peak Internet. He agreed to not compete in the same markets, and not let it interfere with Peak work.
In 2006, the friends decided to emigrate to Vancouver BC, so Agora moved into a new location, forked.net, in a cage in the Infinity Data Center in downtown Portland --- ironically, nearly across the street from the Pittock where it had been not so long before.
By 2007, the handwriting was on the wall --- dialup was fading fast, and at the end of the year, dialup services for the handful of remaining dialup users were moved to Peak Internet, while at the same time, work was started on updating and modernizing the rest of the services.