ISP survivor

Julie Robertson

Photo By Deidre Pike

Great Basin Internet Services, in the biz since 1994, was one of the first Internet service providers on the block in Reno. It survived the flooding of the planet with free America Online software. And when digital subscriber lines first became available in northern Nevada, GBIS was first in line to work with Nevada Bell. At least half a dozen other ISPs have started up and gone under in the past eight years. GBIS has steadily grown, and it now has 9,000 billable accounts. GBIS founders Bruce and Julie Robertson moved their staff into newer, larger offices this year, and on Thursday, GBIS held an open house to thank long-time customers and to show off the latest in high-speed networking— wireless broadband Internet access. Julie Robertson, chief operating officer, talked a bit about GBIS’s survival secrets in the competitive ISP world. For more info, call 348-7299 or visit

How many times have you outgrown your offices?

This is the sixth place of business we’ve had over the years. … When things started to take off, we were at 612 E. Fifth St. We moved out of there with 14 employees and grew to 40 employees at the Washington Street location. When our lease came up, we decided we wanted a different kind of image—one in keeping with the things happening with the Internet.

What’s happening with the Internet?

The Internet is evolving. [Thursday] night, we had customers who’ve been with us since 1994, which in Internet terms is like forever. Those are cutting-edge techno fans. They knew what the Internet was before everyone else. Now, things are very common. Everybody’s on the Internet, whether it’s for fun or because everybody else they know is online. So it’s becoming more important to project the professional image to the home user.

Lots of ISPs in Reno have gone under. How have you survived?

Dumb luck? (She laughs.) No, a couple of things. We have never competed on the basis of price alone. When you start competing strictly on the basis of price, something’s got to give and that’s usually the service. We have more tech support [personnel] who work the phones and more sales personnel and a larger corporate sales force. We think it’s important to recognize what the customer needs, even when they don’t know what they need. Educate them. In the past, a lot of ISPs worked on the basis of, “I’ll come to your house, install software and show you how to drive.” Then that’s the end. As the customer, you don’t know what’s been done to your computer. When it breaks, you don’t know how to fix it. We provide education along the way. We empower the customer by having them step through configurations with our help.

Tell me about wireless broadband.

It’s for people who need to do very large or very high-speed data transfers. Did you try it out when you were here?

Yes, it’s fast.

It is fast. In the Internet business, nobody goes back to slow. When we first started the company, 14.4-kilobit modems were all you could do. Now 56k is getting to be terribly slow, and broadband isn’t kilobits but megabit orders of magnitude faster.

How fast is wireless?

Up to three megabits per second. The “up to” is important given Internet variables.

What does the future hold for GBIS?

It looks very good. At the moment, we’re catching up a little bit with our growth over the past few years.