Discussion and Implications
The survey shows strong support for the concept of a Free-Net in the Regina area. 72% of people with a home computer and modem expressed an interest in using the Free-Net. With the growth in home computer ownership, this already gives the Free-Net a strong potential base with which to begin operations.
Not only are people intellectually supportive of the concept of the Free-Net, they are prepared to commit themselves to its creation and on-going operation. 32% of respondents were interested in becoming GPFN members and felt that membership fees in the $10-$49 range are reasonable. Over half of all respondents were prepared to give a donation to the Free-Net to help cover operations with the modal donation in the $50-$100 range. As well, over a quarter of people (28.2%) stated that they would be interested in volunteering time to help the Free-Net achieve or maintain its mandate.
Demographics of Users
At the present time, most prospective Free-Net users have access to a home computer or are contemplating purchasing a computer with modem. As such, the majority of prospective users are male, but not overwhelmingly so. Users will tend to have a high school diploma or bachelor's degree, be in the 25-44 age bracket and make above $35,000 per annum in household income.
The study also found a strong level of support across all population sub-groupings. There was strong interest in the Free-Net among low-income respondents and high school students and as the percentage of homes with computers continues to expand, these groups have the potential of becoming major users of the Free-Net as well.
Interestingly, individuals who already have access to the Internet are somewhat more committed to supporting a Free-Net than those who do not. This could be due to their familiarity with the potential and opportunities afforded by the medium of Internet and a perceived shortcoming of present Internet content and offerings.
Current publicity efforts by the Great Plains Free-Net have been effective. 22% of respondents have heard of the Great Plains Free-Net with another 18% unsure of themselves. The most common sources of information identified by people include friends and colleagues and the newspaper. Workplace advertising and mass electronic media have been somewhat effective while the public library and schools have been relatively ineffective conduits through which to share the Free-Net message, even though from a philosophical perspective these two institutions should have similar goals as the Free-Net.
From the strong support shown by low income respondents, the claim to be a "Free" Net may be a strong appeal to particular population groups.
The survey revealed strong interest for education and other information content areas. Computer information, library catalogs, community, reference, health and recreational information all topped the list of information interests. Based on the survey results, most people are eager to access the public library catalog through the Free-Net.
Technical Institute graduates were least interested in accessing information, but they are also the least likely to have a home computer. High School students and young people are interested in merchandising opportunities while job searching is another keen interest among young adults.
Public service information is another strong interest, particularly among lower income groups who may prefer to access these content types via the Free-Net. These "Public service" information providers would include groups and organizations concerned with community, health, education, recreation and financial advice.
For clubs, professional associations, self-help groups, and other organizations, the Free-Net can provide a cost effective option to present their message and objectives to the public. Although less than half of respondents expressed an interest for these areas, the numbers of potential users of the Free-Net would still afford these groups an excellent vehicle for the dissemination of their message.
As a survey conducted within the City of Regina local calling area, there was a lack of interest for agricultural and weather related information areas--areas much more important to rural residents. A comprehensive province-wide survey would be required before attempting to address issues related to smaller urban and rural centres.
A large number of modems in use are newer high speed modems. Over half of the available modems are capable of transmitting at 14,400 baud or higher with only a third of modems at 2,400 baud or slower. Because people will want to connect with the Free-Net at their highest available speed, the Free-Net really has no need for modems in its modem pool slower than 14,400 baud.
From people's self-assessment of their projected use of the Free-Net, system resources can easily be overloaded on early weekday evenings. The largest single group of people saw themselves logging onto the system between two to six times a week, and almost half of respondents saw this happening between 6-9 PM.
Respondents did feel that a maximum daily access period of 30 minutes to 2 hours was appropriate. To this end, the Free-Net can level its system usage by granting a shorter access period during the peak hours and extending access periods for those users who log on at other times.