When artist and pop star David Bowie launched an Internet service provider firm in the heady dot-com runup days of 1998, a guy named Ron Roy helped Bowie run the ISP. Days after the music icon's death from cancer at age 69, Ars Technica interviews Roy about how "BowieNet" came to life, and why Bowie wanted to be in the ISP business in the first place.
What an incredible artist and visionary we lost in Bowie's death! What area of our culture did he not explore bravely?
It was a lot easier to become an Internet service provider in 1998 than it is today. Instead of the enormous expense of deploying fiber or cable throughout a city, ISPs could spring to life by selling dial-up connections to anyone with a telephone line. BowieNet's dial-up service sold full access to the Internet for $19.95 a month (or £10.00 in the UK), but it was also a fan club that provided exclusive access to David Bowie content such as live video feeds from his studio. Customers who already had a dial-up Internet provider and didn't want to switch could buy access to BowieNet content separately for $5.95 a month. BowieNet had about 100,000 customers at its peak, Roy said.
"Myself and my business partner met David Bowie's manager and pitched the idea of an online fan club and ISP in 1996 that centered about David," Roy explained. "The name of [the] venture/company was UltraStar—I was a founder and partner and actually David became our first investor and shortly after a partner in UltraStar. UltraStar was launched in 1998 and eventually sold to Live Nation in 2006."
Bowie was "very hands-on in the design of BowieNet," Roy said. Roy, meanwhile, managed the relationship between Bowie and a Web design and development company, also securing technology partners to get Internet access set up. "Instead of building an infrastructure from scratch we decided to partner with an organization that had a turnkey solution (hosting, ISP services, customer service, billing)," Roy said. (That company was Concentric Network Corporation, which was later bought by XO Holdings.) "UltraStar concentrated on marketing and business development. As we grew the company we started to bring more IT services and support in-house."
David Bowie's ISP, as remembered by the guy who helped create "BowieNet"
[Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica]