I am not sure how this discussion came about. I am fairly sure it had to do with somebody whining about their cable modem bill or their DSL.
This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. I told them my story about when I was working on the @Home project. I still have the shirt that I wear on occassion. I consulted with the local cable company that was one of the partners in development and deployment of @Home and @Work. I remember the initial roll-outs in Connecticut and in the Mountain View area. The company was just finishing beta testing and was getting ready to go into production. My job was designing the training and doing the first round of training of the tier 1 tech support group. I invested a great deal of time in meetings and drawing on white boards with other geeks and discussing the "needed" knowledge of the tier 1 team. One of the meetings happened to be on the pricing structure. I guess I was an accidental invite.
To start the meeting, we watched the film of the focus groups. The focus group in Mountain View was asked how much they would pay for broadband access after testing it at one of the demo sites. I remember very clearly three or four of them debating what the cost should be. One guy said, $100 a month seems more than reasonable. I think it would be a great deal. Another guy said, yeah, but I am sure that people like me would pay at least $200 a month. The third guy started his estimate with, "Well, my house payment is …" The focus group in Hartsford, Connecticut was completely different. One guy said that since it was coming through his cable, it should be free. Another guy said that half the cost of AOL seemed reasonable because it would not have all the great features of AOL. The guy that was willing to pay the most said he might go as high as $25 a month.
Somehow, they came out with a price of either $34.99 or $39.99 or somewhere around there. The cable modems were freaking expensive back then, too. I thought, what a freaking steal, the customers are going to get one hell of a deal since they would not even have to pay for the cable modem.
I miss those days when people made their decisions on where to live based on what neighborhoods were configured for cable modem access. People used to call tech support at the @Home offices just to find out if the house they were going to bid on was in the supported area. One call that I listened in on during the training time went kind of like this:
- Caller, "So, I am looking at a house at <insert address>, but I also have several other houses that I am also considering. I really want to know if and when each of them will be able to get a cable modem …"
- Tech Support, "Sorry sir, we just do tech support, we don’t have access to the deployment schedules and area maps. I can only tell you that your new address is not in the available area because we have been given the map for those areas where we are active and doing installs."
- Caller, "Let’s say, just a hypothetical situation, that a new hard drive (I think it was a hard drive anyways) showed up on your desk, would you then be able to find one of those maps with the schedule?"
- Tech Support <laughing in a mocking manner>, "Sorry sir, I have had much better bribes in just the last hour."
- Caller, "OK, I will call back later with a new address after I look at these other houses."
- As he hung up we could clearly hear him say, "Honey, I really can’t stand this place, we need to keep looking… <click>"
At first I laughed, but then I realized that if I lived in the area, I would have been doing the same thing.
So, the lesson? At least we didn’t have to worry about broadband being more than a house payment.