By Roger Downey 

Since 1994, Belltown-based Speakeasy Networks has been the Internet service provider of choice for tech-savvy Seattleites. In a business in which customer

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Best Buy Swallows Speakeasy

Seattle-based Internet service provider will now mingle with the Geek Squad at the company Christmas party.

By Roger Downey 

Since 1994, Belltown-based Speakeasy Networks has been the Internet service provider of choice for tech-savvy Seattleites. In a business in which customer support usually comes last in corporate priorities, Speakeasy earned raves for its speedy response times and dedication to solving customer problems, helping it to become a national presence in providing broadband and voice-over-internet service for demanding customers, and, increasingly, small business.

The deal, announced Tuesday morning, means that henceforward Speakeasy CEO Bruce Chatterly will be reporting to Best Buy HQ in Minneapolis suburb Richfield, Minnesota. On the upside, the op will continue to be based here; again on the upside, Best Buy, which also owns Magnolia Hi-Fi and Video and Geek Squad, has been running against the corporatization trend in the hi-tech business: a development chronicled in a Business Week cover story last December.

“Workers pulling into the company's amenity-packed headquarters at 2 p.m. aren't considered late,” noted the anonymous author(s) wonderingly; “Nor are those pulling out at 2 p.m. seen as leaving early. There are no schedules. No mandatory meetings. No impression-management hustles. Work is no longer a place where you go, but something you do. It's O.K. to take conference calls while you hunt, collaborate from your lakeside cabin, or log on after dinner so you can spend the afternoon with your kid.”

The downside? It was surely Chatterley’s success in building up the small-business side of the operation that motivated Best Buy to cough up $97 million and change for Speakeasy. Chatterley’s boss at Best Buy is head of of the company’s business-services division, so it’s likely that faithful individual customers willing to pay Speakeasy’s rather stiff monthly rates in exchange for superb support services are likely to get less attention in the future.

 
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