By JANE OTTO
What began as thoughtful consideration at a Minnesota Newspaper Association conference developed into conversations with a computer consultant and emerged as Central Minnesota Gateway (CMG), a local Internet access provider.
Now, 93,000 calls and 150,000 e-mail pieces later, CMG, serving the Howard Lake, Cokato and Dassel areas, recently celebrated its first birthday.
CMG's components are Carolyn and Dan Holje, and Marie and Paul Scivetti. The Holjes own the Enterprise Dispatch newspaper at where Carolyn wears many hats. Dan is also an English teacher at Dassel-Cokato High School. The Scivettis, formerly Staten Island residents, own a computer consulting firm, Synergen. Paul is the technical guru, while Marie oversees the business end.
CMG is headquartered in Cokato at the Enterprise Dispatch office, since both Dassel and Howard Lake can dial the Cokato exchange toll-free.
Local Internet access enables those connected to do business on a global basis without those prohibitive toll calls. To the individual, the Internet can be an unparalleled resource of information at the click of a mouse.
"E-mail is probably the most profound thing on the Net," said Paul.
In just a year's time, prices dropped and services increased four times. CMG also doubled the number of lines from 13 to 26. A single phone line can support about eight to 10 users said Paul. There are now more than 260 subscribers and counting.
"We've had good success rate with little or no busy signal," said Paul. "You just do not want your subscribers to be unable to get online."
Presently they are at 28.8 kbps across the board but in the next week or so they will be adding some 33.6 kbps modems, said Paul.
"It wouldn't matter what speed I put on my end if you can't connect at that speed," Paul commented.
Due to a few quirks in rural phone lines that Sprint is ironing out, users in town still get the best connection he added.
When asked to reflect back on whether they would do anything different, laughter was the immediate response. They were neither completely familiar with the territory they were about to tread nor did they have any notion as to what the response would be to Internet access. Would there be 10, 50 or 500 users?
It was pretty much learn as you go said Paul, whose background includes about 15 years in computers with some Internet experience. There was a tremendous amount of reading and then more reading.
Dan also provides online support. Being in the newspaper industry, he was versed primarily in Macintosh Since must subscribers are Windows-based PCs, he consequently became as fluent in Windows 95 and 3.1
Looking back though, there was one turn of events that happened for the best. While just barely online in Cokato, CMG considered expanding to Litchfield. As luck would have it, the Internet line was delayed. It resulted in "one of the best things that could have happened," said Scivetti, because in the interim two other Internet access providers invaded the Litchfield area.
"We would have had no one physically in Litchfield to provide support," commented Scivetti.
They decided to refocus their efforts on the Howard Lake, Cokato and Dassel area.
"CMG's mission statement has always been to treat people the right way, like your friends and neighbors, because that's what they are," Paul said. "We see ourselves more as a community service than a business."
In addition to Internet access, CMG designs Web pages. They also furnish an infrastructure and assistance to get those Web pages out there; whether the pages have their own domain or not.
"Once you have a local connection, you can do business anywhere," commented Scivetti.
CMG also provides assistance for instructors teaching the Internet at an introductory, intermediate and business levels through Dassel-Cokato Community Education.
Being a small firm, support and service is the cornerstone of their success. And that means being there at all times.
Dan recalled answering a support call during one of those rather anticipatory moments of the Gophers-Clemson NCAA playoff game. There were a few aghhhhs on his end, Dan said, but not in response to the online problems the subscriber was having which he did manage to solve.
Support is usually handled via phone but if all else fails they make house calls. Eventually CMG plans to provide an online support page for their subscribers.
CMG subscribers are certainly a cross-section of the area. CMG's anniversary open house presented the opportunity to meet some of these users.
"It's always great to see people and nice to know who your users are," quipped Paul.
Jerry Kelly, a retiree and rural Dassel resident, said he had an interest in the Internet but the long-distance call made it prohibitive. Aside from cruising the Net, he enjoys being able to e-mail family members in Seattle and to get the latest stock quotes.
Kelly Mankenberg, a corporate Web page designer, said prior to CMG's inception, he was maintaining a $400 per month phone bill.
Dassel-Cokato High School senior Brian Wall, one of CMG's first users, is in the process of designing a Cokato Web page.
In meeting with CMG's owners, their enthusiasm for what they do and their community is easily apparent.
That community spirit continues in a trek to their Web site as it invites you to "enjoy your visit to our cozy little corner of the planet."
That particular corner is located at http://www.cmgate.com.