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Great Basin widens its reach

John Seelmeyer

In a price war among its competitors,

Great Basin Internet Service would be a

conscientious objector.

Instead, the Reno-based company

believes its customers are willing to pay

premium prices so long as they get premium

service to match.

The company’s price for basic dial-up

service $21.95 a month is nearly

double what some local competitors

charge for a roughly similar connection.

Netzero, the national Internet service

provider, continues to provide a limited

Internet connect for free, and a fair number

of Internet providers hover around

the $15-to-$20 monthly price point.

Julie Robertson, Great Basin’s chief

operating officer, leaves no doubt about

her company’s strategy:

“We do not compete on the basis of

price,” she said in an interview a few days

ago. “We try to provide good value for

that price.”

What constitutes good value?

Employees of Great Basin Internet

will go out to the home of a customer

who is having trouble getting his computer

to make connections.

It’s not uncommon, meanwhile, for

customers to unplug their computers and

bring them down to Great Basin’s new

office on Moana Lane for technicians to

look things over.

Customer-service employees pride

themselves on their ability as teachers,

helping customers learn to navigate the

‘net and their own computers.

“Everybody in this company is a customer-

service person,” said Robertson.

The strategy worked.

With 9,000 subscribers, Great Basin’s

reach stretches beyond northern Nevada

to include customers in Las Vegas and

throughout northern California as well.

As a regional Internet service provider,

it’s smaller than the big players the

AOLs and Earthlinks of the world but

bigger than the mom-and-pop shops that

continue to find a place in the business.

And more important than the customer

numbers is this: Great Basin

is profitable.

Don’t look, however, for Julie

Robertson and her husband, Bruce the

company’s chief executive officer and

technical heart to sell their company.

Instead, they want to solidify Great

Basin’s position as a one-stop shop for

Internet services.

Need a DSL line? Design of a Web

site? Help getting your firm registered on

search engines? Assistance with a local

area network? Great Basin markets itself

as the “Internet Solutions Provider.”

That’s a role the company has tried to

fill since the early 1990s when Bruce

Robertson pretty much was the Internet

for a hardy band of followers in Reno.

A software consultant, Bruce Robertson

had been messing around on the early,

text-only Internet through a connection

at the University of Nevada-Reno.

UNR kicked all the non-university

users off their connections. Robertson

found a Bay-area company that would

run an Internet connection to Reno and

promised his wife that he’d round up

three or four people to share the expense.

By 1994, he was ready to launch Great

Basin Internet Services.

That was only months before the

introduction of the World Wide Web, the

first time that graphics and pictures were

available on the Internet.

“Once pictures were an easily accomplished

feature, that was when everything

went boom,” recalled Julie Robertson.

“We were the first true ISP in the area.

Once the word got out that by calling

Bruce, you could get access to the

Internet, people found us.”

The company’s growth in the mid-

1990s was eye-popping.

Monthly subscriber counts grew by

40 to 60 percent. Nevada Bell was adding

a new line to Great Basin’s main office at

the time an old bakery on Fifth Street

every couple of days.

“It was craziness. It was all we could

to do to sign people up and get them on

line,” said Julie Robertson.

And while the company was making

money in those days, it needed to pour

cash into upgrading its services as fast as

the dollars rolled in the door.

In 1997, it took a big step toward

widening its footprint in the market when

it acquired Spider Internet ommunications,

a Web-design firm.

Never has the need for great customer

service been more evident than during

those crazy early days. One customer

called the company for help making a

connection to the Internet.Whenever he

called the access number, he explained, all

he got was an unusual sound. After some

conversation, Great Basin employees figured

out what the customer needed: He didn’t have

a computer.


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