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Cybergate closing in on nearly a decade in ever-changing market

Laurel — Three people with a combination of four years of experience in electronic communication in the Air Force, a physics degree and work as an engineer and a master’s degree plus being “extraordinarily gifted” as a graphic artist have driven Cybergate from its beginning nine years ago to the present day.

Tommy Dorsey is the electronics communication veteran, his brother, Chris, holds the physics degree from Louisiana State University, and Chris’ wife, Marlo, is the graphic artist. They founded Cybergate in September 1996 and still own and operate it today.

Huge changes have taken place since the early dial-up-only days as an Internet service provider (ISP), according to Tommy. But what sets Cybergate apart from the huge ISP entities is that “we offer local tech service, unlike the large companies.”

Tommy explained that “when you call them for tech service, you’re switched to a technician overseas. We offer personal service, something that the big companies can’t offer. We make house calls. This is what has kept us in business.”
When Cybergate started nine years ago, “just the three of us worked here.” Now, there are 10 employees. At the beginning, Cybergate only offered service in Laurel and Jones County. Now, that service is available all over Mississippi and in Southeastern Louisiana.

“We offered what was available when we started, which was just standard dial-up at 28 K. Now, dial-up has been upgraded to 56 K. And we offer DSL, high speed broadband service.”
One change is the number of former dial-up customers who have switched to broadband. Tommy indicated that the number of dial-up customers is steadily decreasing.

Cybergate is moving toward more wireless technology, he said. An example of such technology familiar to many people is a coffee house where anyone can walk in with a laptop computer and start using it without having to plug into anything.

“Creating and hosting Web sites has become a sizable part of Cybergate’s business,” Tommy indicated. “The increase in this phase of our business in the last year has been phenomenal.”

Marlo is in charge of this area, and she has four employees working with her on the Web design team.

Tommy said that if someone asks Cybergate to design a Web site for him:

• “We ask him to come in and sit down with us and we try to find out what he wants to accomplish on the Internet. We ask him to look at the Internet and find sites that are similar to what he wants. It’s cheaper if the customer knows what the Web site should look like.

• Then, we go over the media/print part of the project.

• Next, we start building the Web site. How long it takes to do the Web site — and the cost — depends on the size and scope of the project.”

Filtering for viruses and spam is another service offered by Cybergate.

“We filter twice for viruses,” he said. “We also do content filtering, so children alone on a computer can’t access inappropriate sites. Most of our customers in this area are churches.”

Tommy said the greatest satisfaction he, his brother and sister-in-law get is from their customers, when they’re told that a customer is “very satisfied with our service, very happy with Cybergate, that we’re doing a good job.”
“Our greatest challenge is competition with national companies and defeating their advertising. For example, [BellSouth] touts Internet service for $4.99 a month. But then the customer finds out that to get the $4.99 rate he has to sign up for the complete plan and he winds up getting services that he doesn’t want or doesn’t need.

“And this complete plan is going to cost him $40 to $50 a month more than he’s now paying for phone service.”

Customers who change service often come back to Cybergate, Tommy said, “and they’re really upset about their experience with the phone company.”

They try to educate customers about the reality of the phone company plan and what it really costs. “It’s a huge challenge and a huge frustration.”

Tommy and Chris are from Houma, La. Following the Air Force, Tommy worked as manager of a fireworks warehouse in Hammond, La., and he got involved with a friend who owned an ISP there.

After getting his physics degree from LSU, Chris was employed as an engineer for Schlumberger Well Services in Laurel. He studied data, the demographics, the feasibility of opening an ISP in Laurel, and he and Tommy got together and talked about it at length, “the whole nine yards.”

The result was Cybergate. Tommy handles the technical end of the operation, the e-mail service, “whatever we need to keep functioning.”

Chris attends to the buying and selling, the vendors, the phone company, negotiations and also the internal databases, such as customers.

In addition to design, Marlo is in charge of the business end of Cybergate.

Contact MBJ contributing writer at George McNeill at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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