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Nationet Online seeks to boost the number of African Americans on the Net

With a computer, phone line, modem, e-mail account and Web browser you have all the tools you need to access tons of information and to communicate with family, friends and the rest of the world. But without dependable online service, the Internet is useless to you. Nationet Online Services is the latest player to join the lineup of Internet service providers.

Much like its competitors, the African American-owned ISP offers 56k dial-up and broadband access for $9.95 to $19.95 a month. But Nationet (800-394-8097) goes beyond Internet connectivity; it’s a vertical portal that has gathered sports, news, entertainment and other content that caters to African Americans.

“What we offer is not simply a moniker that says Nationet is for African Americans,” says President and COO John Henderson. “We offer a packet of options that gives fast, reliable connectivity. But because you connect through us, you have the benefit of creating a personal home page that brings the richness of African American experience to the Internet. We want to make sure that [at least] 80% of the information on our site is relevant to your lifestyle.”

The company was originally formed in 1996 to provide Internet and computer training to African American families. In a 1998 pilot program, Nationet trained more than 1,500 people in Atlanta, the company’s headquarters. At around the same time, Nationet, which also has offices in Detroit and Washington, D.C., conducted similar programs in those cities.

Adopting a “cradle-to-grave” approach, Nationet also supplied Internet-ready computers (in conjunction with partners such as IBM and Microsoft). “We were giving [the participants] a computer, training and Internet access, but then we were sending them to another online service,” says Henderson, explaining why the company evolved into an ISP.

A major player in developing (and bankrolling) Nationet is its director, Chester Dorsey, who owns and has operated for over 20 years Chester Dorsey Auto Salons, with 13 locations throughout Washington and Oregon. Henderson was one of the principal architects, creating mostly the back-end services. He says Nationet is a true virtual network: all of its services are outsourced. An M.B.A. graduate of the University of Washington in Seattle, Henderson is responsible for managing the company’s day-to-day financial, budgetary and equity operations.

He served as vice president for Seattle-First National Bank’s Wall Street office and the Bank of Boston. So it should come as no surprise that he was chiefly responsible for the development of the I-Card, an unsecured credit program. Approved applicants can use the card to purchase Nationet’s private-label personal computers at a discounted monthly rate and to pay for Internet access and other services.

The former Marine also brings nearly 20 years of executive experience to the company, having served as managing director of Isiah Investments L.L.C., a private investment company in Birmingham, Michigan, where he helped to develop and launch the “I-Gift” Website, an e-commerce venture between basketball legend Isiah Thomas and the National Basketball Association. He also was director of operations for the Inatome Group, a private equity firm, and a principal with

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