Santa Rosa internet service provider Sonic turns 25, after humble start in McDonald Avenue home
In the early days, Sonic was little more than a few modems, eight phone lines and personal computers operating out of a back room of co-founder Dane Jasper’s mother’s house in Santa Rosa’s McDonald Avenue neighborhood.
It was late 1994, and its precursor Sonoma Interconnect, was already hogging extra phone lines intended for neighbors on the block. When Jasper and co- founder Scott Doty called the phone company to ask for eight more lines, the company balked.
“I had used up every (second) phone line in that (telephone) cable that ran the whole 10 blocks,” Jasper recalled.
It was a time of rapid growth for the two Santa Rosa Junior College students who launched their fledgling company when the internet was for most Americans a novelty, a niche used primarily by college students and computer scientists.
The World Wide Web was only a few years old and Mosaic, the first user- friendly graphical web browser, was wowing non-techies with GIFs, gray backgrounds, black text and blink tags.
“You know, as a 21-year-old junior college student, I didn’t have an expectation or understanding that the internet would change so much of what we do every day,” said Jasper, reflecting back 25 years ago when he and Doty launched their internet venture.
They may not have been able to predict how all-encompassing the internet age would become, but they knew enough to evolve and ride the wave of each major technological innovation.
It’s the reason Santa Rosa-based Sonic has thrived even as most other small internet service providers, which numbered in the thousands across the country during the dial-up net period of the mid-1990s, have gone out of business.
The internet service industry now is dominated in the United States by four major telecommunications companies, Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and Spectrum.
In the 25 years that Sonic has been operating, the company has grown to become the largest independent internet service provider in Northern California with more than 100,000 customers. Along the way, with Jasper as its CEO, Sonic has become a champion of telecom policies promoting competition, online privacy and the concept of net neutrality.
“It’s important to have a local telecom business that is more focused on ensuring privacy and more in tune with its own community,” said Farid Farahmand, who heads Sonoma State University’s engineering science department.
Chip Pickering, CEO of Incompas, the nation’s leading trade organization calling for competition among fixed, fiber and wireless networks, has lobbied for more rivalry in the telecom industry since 1981. A leading voice in the effort to break up AT&T in 1984, he said in many ways Sonic’s successful business model in Northern California is “spreading to the four corners of the country.”
Since 1994, Sonic has been through three major business transformations, each of them a response to both government telecom policies or advances in technology.
The business began as a dial-up internet company, evolved with the advent of DSL, became a telephone company and most recently has been laying miles and miles of its own fiber-optic cable, creating its own network.
“Each of those is a real reinvention of the company, a learning new skills by the staff, a change in strategic direction,” Jasper said. “And they’ve all been driven by technological or regulatory change.”