Cyberbunk

Kevin Massey is no 'cyberstalker.' But when he tangled with another bullheaded loudmouth on the Internet, their 'flame' war spawned a great publicity stunt.

Massey has a ponytail, a blondish mustache, and, even in the tamest of conversations, a collection of off-color adjectives that causes his wife to chime in at one point, "Kevin, you can't talk like that."

He's the Mackdaddy because he knows how to "play women," he explains, without seeming to notice how silly that sounds. His big gold "KC" necklace, fake Rolex, and fat nugget bracelet are gifts from the ladies, he says.

Sitting now at his computer, Massey describes in vague terms how he has gone straight since his prison stint. He has worked in construction, sheetrocking--"a jack of all trades," he says. In a deposition in Maynard's lawsuit taken earlier that day, he mentioned pager sales, a stretch as a manager at a Fort Worth topless club, and now computer consulting and Internet training.

"I didn't want any more callouses on my hands," he says. "That's why I pussied up and learned computers."

As the Mackdaddy, Massey posted more than 200 notes in his flame war with the Internet America guys in August and September alone. John Stewart, the Internet America training director, recalls how Massey was such an eager combatant that the Mackdaddy complained when the war bogged down in September, "Come on guys, where are you?"

By the end of the month, though, he would drop a bomb.
Although he claims it was inadvertent, he posted a flame note in dfw.internet.providers, a newsgroup that Internet companies in the North Texas area use to market themselves and snipe at each other. It went right after Robert Maynard, who had not been directly involved in the flame war.

"I wonder if ole Robert has been trying to kill NE of his techs lately??" the Mackdaddy wrote. "Hey you techs still trying to pork ole fatheads, ole lady?? Remember he has that 45 waiting to catch one of you horny bastards."

Maynard, who has built his company into the dominant Internet service provider in North Texas in less than two years, is not one to take any slight lightly. Even minor customer complaints filed in dfw.internet.providers are apt to prompt a personal response.

"Everything Maynard posts is an ad," says Jeff LaCoursiere, who heads FastLane Communications, a small Fort Worth Internet provider that has been at odds with Maynard's company in the past about various things.

In March, some phone lines were accidentally switched, and FastLane customers were routed to Internet America. A technician at IA took advantage of the situation and posted a message to LaCoursiere's customers: "Why are you calling SlowLane? Sign up with Internet America."

Maynard, a Phoenix native who finished college in five semesters and did a stint as a sniper with the Army's elite Green Berets, must think some days that he's in a corporate Vietnam. His technical guys have been accused of "pinging" a competitor with blasts of information that bogged down their systems. And lately, someone has been leaking his internal e-mail memos, including one that outlined a 44-person layoff that began November 4, and another that revealed plans to expand to Houston.

(At one point while I was reporting this story, Maynard left a message on my voice-mail. "I'm trying to catch a spy," he said, explaining that he was planning to tell his employees that the Dallas Observer was somehow "on Massey's side." Maynard explained the next day that he was laying an electronic trap to see if the leaker in his company would bite. "A little counterintel," he said, conspiratorially.

Talking in his 30th-floor corner office in a '80s-vintage glass tower on St. Paul Street, Maynard says he wasn't aware his employees had been flaming--in essence commanding people, on Internet America's electronic stationery, to perform impossible sex acts on themselves. If his employees were, Maynard insists, they should have made it clear that their posts had nothing to do with the company.

"We're a new company; our policies are evolving," says Maynard, whose boyish, clean-shaven good looks and friendly air make him an easy person to trust. He has told the story more than once about the way he tutored one Dallas woman who called his company's number looking for the Internet. Her husband turned out to be Dallas millionaire William O. Hunt, who ended up investing $700,000 in the privately held company.

Employing its TV ads and billboards aimed at Mom, Dad, and the kids who just bought their first computer at Best Buy, Internet America has grown to 41,000 subscribers. It has literally blown by competitors who seem stuck in a time, two or three years ago, when the only people on line were geeks.

Life for this Information Age entrepreneur has been good. He casually drops the little status nugget: When he bought the Lexus, he paid cash.

Conducting the grand tour through rooms stuffed with glowing monitors and banks of blinking circuitry, Maynard displays an impressive knowledge of the Internet business. But, oddly, he has a habit of going off about things like how he and his wife, Teresa, were having trouble a while back, or how he impulsively asked her to marry him before they ever went on a date.

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