Content and Connectivity: Competing Perspectives on Success in a Residential Broadband Network Trial

Catherine Middleton
Schulich School of Business, York University
January, 2001
 

Abstract


Access to residential broadband networks and services is becoming widely available to consumers in North America. By means of either a DSL or cable modem connection, consumers can send and receive e-mail, surf the internet, share files and access content offered by their internet service provider, all at speeds between 1 and 3 Mbps. In Canada, it is estimated that 40% of homes that have internet access are now connected via high speed, broadband networks. By the end of 2001, approximately 10 million Americans will be using broadband networks in their homes.


It is evident that there is consumer demand for residential broadband, but to date there has been almost no research on how consumers use broadband networks and services. In the mid-1990s however there were many trials of broadband services, most of which were considered to be failures.


This dissertation investigates the issue of success in residential broadband networks. The research is interpretive in nature, and starts with the assumption that different stakeholders will have different understandings of what makes a residential broadband network successful. The research is based on a longitudinal study of a Canadian broadband network trial.


The dissertation demonstrates that broadband providers believe in a ‘content is king’ model for development of new broadband services. This model suggests that demand for broadband will be driven by a killer application, even though it is not yet clear what that killer application might be. In contrast, users are interested in the connectivity provided by broadband networks. Users want to be able to control their communication experience, and find value in peer-to-peer networking.


A model is proposed to explain the basis of the differences in user and provider visions of broadband success, and shows that each perspective is well-entrenched. Providers appear unwilling or unable to accept that users are more interested in connectivity than content. It is not expected that users will change their perspective, thus providers will find that demand for content is not as great as they currently anticipate.


The dissertation concludes with a series of propositions that outline how the implications of this research are expected to influence future developments of residential broadband.
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