A Community's Response to Free-Nets: Implications for the Community-Based Telecomputing Movement in Regina

by Daryle Niedermayer

Commissioned and published by the Great Plains Free-Net Inc., Regina Saskatchewan

Executive Summary

A survey in May 1995 was conducted by the Great Plains Free-Net Inc. The survey was intended to assist Great Plains Free-Net in better understanding the needs of the community as well as helping Great Plains Free-Net understand how to better communicate its concept to the community as a whole and helping recruit prospective information providers and determine interests among the community. Also considered were questions related to the demographics of prospective users, potential commitment by the community to Great Plains Free-Net, and the times of anticipated peak system usage.

A survey of Regina calling area homes resulted in 774 contacts and 235 completed surveys.

These surveys found a strong interest in Great Plains Free-Net as an information and connection service. 22% of the respondents had heard about Great Plains Free-Net prior to the survey although most of these had obtained their knowledge through friends, colleagues or the newspaper.

People were supportive of Great Plains Free-Net as a vehicle for obtaining community, computer, and health information. Also nearing the top of the list were library catalogs, recreational and educational programs. Shopping, self-help groups, as well as clubs and associations did not rate very high as the information areas in which people were most interested.

About 80% of people who have or desire access to a personal computer are interested in using Great Plains Free-Net. Half of respondents interested in using the Free-Net stated that they would give a donation to help cover costs. A third of respondents indicated they would consider becoming a member of the Great Plains Free-Net. 28% of respondents were prepared to volunteer time to Great Plains Free-Net's activities.

Most potential users identified early week-day evenings as their most preferred time for logging onto the system. This will inevitably overtax the available resources of Great Plains Free-Net so policies and procedures should be implemented that encourage users to choose other times for logon. Alternatively, restricted access during peak periods should be considered. Users were prepared to use the system on an almost daily basis.

Current Internet access and interest in Great Plains Free-Net show a strong correlation. Rather than spurning the Free-Net, current Internet users are more likely than others to use Great Plains Free-Net, suggesting that the Free-Net can offer content and services unavailable through commercial providers.

Computer usage is broadening into all income, educational and age strata. Although most prospective Free-Net users are currently male, have a household income over $35,000, a high school or university education, and are under 45 years of age, these distinctions are waning. Older people are expressing interest in computers. People of lower income levels and women also express a strong interest in using computers to access services and features available through a Free-Net.

Given the demonstrated community support for the Free-Net, Great Plains Free-Net should have no difficulty justifying its existence to users, information providers and funding agencies.