Just as Google Fiber posted a blog about its efforts to address “digital divide” issues, The Wall Street Journal publishes a story headlined: “Google Fiber Leaves a Digital Divide” with this subhead: “Survey Finds Few Low-Income Residents in Kansas City Subscribe to Superfast Service.” But is this Google’s fault? What are the implications for the Triangle and the North Carolina Next Generation Network?
Rather than blaming Google, the WSJ says the results of survey conducted door-to-door in several Kansas City neighborhoods ” is less about where broadband service is offered—the subject of fierce debate when Google first arrived in Kansas City—and more about who finds it useful and can pay for it.”
As WRAL TechWire reported earlier today, Google Fiber posted a blog in which it said discussions with communities about how each would address digital divide issues were important. Is it a coincidence that The WSJ story broke about the same time?
Regardless, the findings of the WSJ survey serve as a head’s up warning to anyone who believes gigabit-to-the-home or similar but slow services are going to be an easy sell in low-income neighborhoods. (Such issues will be discussed at TechWire’s Fiber Transforms the Internet” conference at SAS on Oct. 13.)
“The survey, in six low-income Kansas City, Mo., neighborhoods, found that just 10% of residents subscribe to Google’s Fiber service. An additional 5% use a slower version that is free for seven years, after a $300 installation fee,” the Journal reported.
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Adoption in wealthier neighborhoods was substantially higher at 42 percent and another 11 percent opting for a slower Google service.
Just as in Kansas City, North Carolina Next Generation Network advocates in the Triangle and parts of the Triad can expect to face similar challenges as its chosen partner, AT&T, prepares to roll out service.
To its credit, the NCNGN leadership of university and city government officials have required that AT&T (which won the agreement through a request-for-proposal) provide free access to some 100 neighborhood centers. Another stipulation is free Wi-Fi access in some areas.
Where’s the Value?
But just because a service is available doesn’t mean customers will sign up.
As the WSJ survey found, people must find real benefits before using it.
In the Google Fiber blog WRAL TechWire cited today, the company reiterated plans to hire community managers in Raleigh and Durham IF they are selected for the next round of fiber sites later this year. Community outreach and education are key requirements.
WSJ’s story acknowledged Google’s outreach in Kansas City.
“Google did at least as much as traditional telecom providers to encourage the adoption of Google Fiber in lower-income areas. It sent employees door to door in some neighborhoods and teamed up with community groups to spread the word. It also supported nonprofit groups that offer classes on using the Internet and sell cheap refurbished computers.”
The biggest reason to NOT subscribe was cost – at 21 percent, the Journal reported. Google Fiber gigabit Internet service is $70 a month; TV package costs another $50. Those prices are similar to AT&T’s own “GigaPower” packages.
But finding value in that kind of service also is a concern.
Notes The Journal: “Some residents said they didn’t need faster service because they don’t use the Internet much. Others said the Internet service on their smartphones is adequate.”