For a while, it seemed that cybersurfers all over the world could easily get on the Internet unless they lived in Payson.
Last fall, Cybertrails, the area's most popular Internet service provider (ISP), was putting Web-wannabes on a waiting list, because the company had reached its user capacity. But new telephone lines to accommodate new customers have since been added, and more are on the way says Cherie Bourne, customer service supervisor for Cybertrails.
Part of the problem, she says, is Payson's phenomenal growth not in general population, but in the number of folks who want to connect to the Internet.
"You guys right now are our biggest customer base in the state," Bourne says of Payson, where Cybertrails has 2,282 users, "and we serve over 145 towns and cities across Arizona."
Cybertrails had to put customers on a waiting list last September and October, Bourne says, "because we were at capacity and had been given multiple dates from the phone company (for line expansion).
"Rather than take on new users and have existing users not receive quality service, we suspended sales until the additional lines were installed in the first half of December. At that point, we took everybody who was on the waiting list and got them signed up.
"Now that we see that we're going to be at capacity again within the next couple of weeks, we're going to go ahead and add the additional lines," she says. "That will raise our capacity comfortably by another couple of hundred more people before we have to revisit the issue. But as of today (Jan. 16), there is not a waiting list."
The new dedicated telephone lines to be added to the existing 264, Bourne says, "will be up within four to six weeks with any luck and if the phone company, MTI (Mountain Telecommunications) is cooperative."
Cybertrails normally works with up to three line providers elsewhere in the state; in the Payson area, the company deals with two: Qwest and MTI.
"That way," Bourne says, "if one can't come through for us, we have another company to fall back on.
"MTI is now trying to accommodate us, and although they've given us a 30-day time frame, we try to throw some cushion on that in the event they run into facilities issues. If they don't have enough capacity in their central office for all the lines, we all need to go to a new game plan."
The Internet service provider-telephone company relationship is perhaps the most misunderstood issue among Web users, Bourne says.
"That's something, across the board, that most people need to be educated on," she says. "It's not a matter of us being stingy and not installing lines; it's that we have to work with the phone company, and sometimes they have limitations."
Cybertrails has, however, worked out a deal with MTI to provide Payson customers with high-speed DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) Internet connections within the next few weeks.
"Yes, it's a little more expensive than dial-up, but people who need it will love it," Bourne says.
The monthly cost, she says, will range roughly between $50 and $75, she says. "Depending on what equipment is needed, the price will vary."
MTI is brand new on the local telephone scene. It's one of the new competitive local exchange carriers that has grown out of the 1996 deregulation of the local telephone industry, and its focus is on rural Arizona towns such as Payson.
"All of our business in Payson right now is with Internet service providers," says MTI spokesperson Ray Napolitano, who in addition to Cybertrails (www.cybertrails.com) cites The River (www.theriver.com) and Dancris (www.dancris.com) among their local IPS clients.
Other ISPs serving Rim country are Future One (www.futureone.net), Goodnet (www.goodnet.com), and CableVision (866) 674-1800. Although CableVision's high-speed ISP partner recently closed, the company is now providing limited Internet access, but will provide full high-speed ISP service beginning Feb. 1, CableVision marketing director David Von Doltren said.
"If an ISP calls us up and says, 'Hey, we want to have more dial-up customers in Payson, can you get us the services?' we will facilitate that service for them," Napolitano explains.
"There is a major problem with facilities between Phoenix and Payson; Qwest is still the dominate cable, and we still have to rely on them for some of the connectivity to Payson. But through these (Internet service providers), we are continually bringing Internet service to people in the Payson area who have never before been able to get it."
Napolitano has high hopes for the future of Payson's Internet service, due in part to the fact that MTI, he says, is the only company in the country that has licensed a wireless product that allows voice, dial tone and Internet via a "very small dish" on the roof of any home.
"Our future objectives include bringing this product to towns like Payson, because that would allow us to service a lot of customers at a much lower cost since we'd no longer have to drag copper cable across the countryside and through the rivers and woods," Naplolitano says.
"That is one of our primary objectives. We do have a major hurdle, though: the license is held by the Department of Defense, and right now they won't release it for use in many areas. That may change in six months or, frankly, 10 years. But we're optimistic that things are moving in that direction."