>Shell access used to be a standard part of all ISP accounts.
>Your ISP might have existed back then, or been founded by someone who did, or had customers who expected the service.
That's a good point. Ours was a small post-Soviet factory town, though, so PPP was well established by the time consumer Internet over phone lines came to us (late 1990s-early 2000s). The local ISPs in the nearest big city, which got online earlier, may have had shell access for their customers at first but by the time I got on the Internet shells were far from expected.
A "founder" (or rather, "employee #1") explanation is the most likely. Our particular ISP was itself part of the government monopoly phone company. An interesting thing was that, as far as I know, at the time they didn't have a standard software setup to run their servers and modem pools. For that reason they gave their locally hired admin a free reign. In our case the admin happened to be an old-school programmer lady who started back in the Soviet days. She might have been the one responsible for giving their customers FreeBSD shells.