Fiber to the Brain

Like a slick, media-wise politician, Google has persuaded an impressive number of people that its fiber-to-the-home service is gonna be awesome.

But talk is relatively cheap. Now comes the hard part: consistently delivering a great service.

About 30% of potential subscribers in the Kansas City metro area paid Google’s $10 preregistration fee to be first in line to get the FTTH hookup, according to a survey last fall by L.A.-based media and technology consulting firm Ideas & Solutions

And another 30% of the qualified population “expressed interest” in Google Fiber’s high-speed Internet and video offerings.

However, the downside to such high expectations “is living up to them,” noted Glen Friedman, president of the consulting firm. “It’s not easy to deliver and maintain a high standard of customer service and customer experience.”

Although Google Fiber ranks higher than Time Warner Cable and other incumbents on 11 brand attributes, “the company is unproven in its ability to deliver and fulfill a complex Internet and video service offering,” Friedman pointed out.

Over the broad sweep of cable TV history, satellite and telco challengers have delivered higher customer-satisfaction scores, benefitting from (a) being able to start with a clean sheet of paper on the technology side and/or (b) not having years of disgruntled customers.

But actually, in the case of Google Fiber, incumbents still have an advantage with TV. A key reason consumers said they would not make the switch to Google Fiber is concern they won’t receive all their favorite channels, according to the Ideas & Solutions survey. Of the survey respondents who paid the preregistration fee, 40% intend to get broadband services from Google Fiber but take pay TV services from another provider. [Google has complained to the FCC that TWC is "withholding" its Metro Sports RSN from the IPTV service.]

No doubt, Google is brilliant at building hype. Its K.C. launch was preceded by a nationwide contest in which Google hand-picked which community would receive its broadband largesse. But in terms of How Much It Will Matter, time will tell if Google is as adept at real-life customer service on any kind of large scale—and whether it will expand beyond the initial Kansas City test.

For its survey, Ideas & Solutions fielded 1,303 online interviews from Oct. 19 to Nov. 4, 2012, which was before Google Fiber had started hooking up any customers. Of those, 532 respondents reside in Kansas City neighborhoods Google has targeted for the FTTH service; the other 771, who live across the U.S., were surveyed for “benchmarking purposes.”

A rep for Ideas & Solutions says the research was not funded by Google, adding that it’s available for purchase at $20,000 a pop.

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