Starting MRNet

Organizational Meeting:

In summer of 1987, having overseen the establishment of the University of Minnesota’s first ARPANET connection to the IMP in Madison Wisconsin, and having secured support from Steve Wolf, Director of the NSF networking division, I saw a chance to start realizing the dream of a networked world so often described by authors such as Clark, in Minnesota. I sent an invitation to ten educational institutions and commercial concerns in Minnesota, including Cray Research, UofM, Mayo Clinic, 3M, etc. In the letter I wrote:

“This document proposes the creation of a low overhead, regional TCP/IP based computer internetwork to serve local computer systems vendors, academic institutions, and research institutions in the north central area.”

The organizational meeting for the “Yet Unnamed Regional Network” was held on August 12, 1987 in the MSC conference room where twenty four people, representing ten institutions, met from 9:00 am to 12:00 noon to discuss our mutual interests regarding the establishment of a regional network to serve their needs, and the needs of other institutions in Minnesota. I made introductory remarks welcoming everyone, outlining the need for such a network to access other wide area networks (NSFnet, BITnet, ARPAnet, etc.) and concluding with a transparency showing a possible configuration for the Yet Unnamed Regional Network. I proposed the name “Minnesota Regional Network” which was subsequently adopted. Here are the minutes of that first meeting. With Ken Carlson and others, we wrote the mrnet by-laws , and on September 23, 1987 the founders gathered at MSC a second time and signed them, declaring MRNet self-established as an association.

Mission Statement:

Later I wrote the mission statement shown on this flyer from 1991, and got it adopted by the membership:

MSC Provided a Room:

During the organizational meeting, I said I would “nail a piece of yellow coax to the wall, and everybody could hook up”. The idea was that each member would provide their own router at the hub, because I had no budget to support it, and because Internet connection was usually a “skunk works” project at members organizations as well. I got MSC to provide a room with UPS power, and Sun kindly contributed an older Sun-2 server that was used for various DNS, routing, and network management services. Here is a picture of the MRNet room a few months after establishment.

Conversion to a Non-Profit Corp:

In 1990 we were over 38 members and had T-1 speed service. I was elected Chairman to oversee MRNet’s conversion from a loose association w/by-laws to a real non-profit corporation. We engaged the law firm of Moor, Costello & Hart and held a series of committee meetings in a back room at the Muffuletta restaurant to hammer out the details of the new Chapter 317A 501C3 compliant by-laws.  Once the Minnesota Secretary of State office and the IRS had accepted our filing, we decided to hire a support person to handle day-to-day operations and Dennis Fazio become our first employee. After I left the University Dennis assumed my roll.

MRNet served as the principal Internet backbone in Minnesota for many years, outperforming commercial entrants such as UUNet and PSINet, and was a member of the Federation of American Research Networks (FARNet). I benefited greatly from the experience, learning quite a bit from the lawyers when we converted to a 501C3, and about herding sheep, and defending them from wolves ;-). It also gave me the opportunity to continue my acquaintances, started years before at the first Interoperability Conference in Monterey, with people like Ed Krol, Vint Cerf, and Bill Schrader, as the MRNet delegate FARNet meetings, and to the first Internet Society meeting in Copenhagen in June of 1991.

Border-to-Border Award in 2016:

“In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web, Minnesota’s broadband leaders gathered at the Border-to-Border Broadband Conference in Duluth on Sept. 14 to recognize the work of MRNet, the first organization to bring the Internet to the state. The conference was sponsored by Blandin Foundation with support from the Department of Employment and Economic Development’s Office of Broadband Development.”  The award had following inscription:

“In recognition of the Minnesotans who, 25 years ago, had a vision of creating a network of networks to enhance research and education and to increase the productivity and competitiveness of businesses throughout our state.”

No one thought to invite me to the ceremony :-(.  Par for the course I guess….