Google Fiber’s now-or-never sign-up pitch to potential customers suddenly feels like now or whenever.
The seller of ultra-fast Internet hookups has been rolling out its service in waves around the Kansas City area — telling wannabe gigabit-speed Web surfers that they’d need to convince their neighbors to sign up for service and they’d have just one shot at wiring their homes into the Google Inc. network.
On Tuesday, the company sent out a marketing email telling customers in central and southern Kansas City and all of Kansas City, Kan. — where it had previously cut off new subscribers — that the Internet giant was still eager for their business after all.
“Whether you just moved into town or missed your last sign-up deadline,” the company’s email said, “we want everyone to have a new chance.”
Though new customers will be able to get the same service as their early-bird neighbors, they won’t get the same prices.
Google said costs of programming forced it to raise its high-end service of TV and Internet to $130 a month. Customers who signed up for that same service before March 10 pay $120 a month through the duration of their two-year contracts.
Google had long said that it aimed to keep its costs low by going only to neighborhoods where demand was greatest, and by dispatching construction and installation crews block by block in a single pass.
And that, the company said, meant that a household would have to wait years if it passed on Google during its months-long “rallies” that determined where it would stretch its network.
A Google Fiber spokeswoman said Tuesday that the company will still rely on its rallies to determine which neighborhoods the company will reach.
“If an area doesn’t get service, it doesn’t get service,” said Kelly Mason. “That initial sign-up period is really important.”
The company started a sign-up period in Lee’s Summit, for instance, last week to determine which neighborhoods Google will ultimately serve.
She said no deadline has been set for new customers to sign contracts in the areas where earlier installations already took place.
“I wouldn’t consider this a change so much as a response to people who told us they wanted our service,” Mason said. “Originally, what we wanted folks to know is that we couldn’t commit on when we might come back.”
Many industry analysts viewed Google’s buy-now-or-miss-out campaign as a marketing ploy that the company would eventually have to abandon. The latest message Google sent out seemed to confirm that skepticism.
“It’s very predictable,” said Carlos Kirjner, an analyst at Bernstein Research. “Why wouldn’t you come back? Why wouldn’t you sell to those customers?”
Another analyst compared the now-or-never sign-up system to a late night infomercial where viewers are told they have only 15 minutes to respond to a special offer.
“These deadlines are meant to spur people to action,” said Roger Entner at Recon Analytics. “What rational business would not want to have additional customers?”
He noted a report last week by the financial analysis firm MoffettNathanson that estimated the number of customers buying both Internet connections and TV subscriptions in 2014 from Google was “incredibly small.”
MoffettNathanson looked at data from the U.S. Copyright Office that shows how many people in a city are buying TV service from a particular cable company or other outfit. The firm noted that the numbers were an imperfect reflection of market penetration. It wouldn’t, for instance, show customers who bought only Internet service from Google. And much of Google’s expansion in the market occurred during the year.
Still, its estimate that Google had fewer than 30,000 TV-and-Internet subscribers suggested Google might not be having the success it needs to turn a profit. (Other surveys — also imperfect — have suggested Google was drawing far more customers.)
Google will not say how many customers it has signed up or what proportion of its subscribers buy TV subscriptions.
Across the industry, another analyst said, the cost of threading network cables through a neighborhood creates strong pressure on a company to sign up every customer possible.
“Once you pass a home (with network construction), it’s hard to say we’ll only sell to you if you sign up the first time we ask,” said James Moorman, a vice president of D.A. Davidson & Co. “That network becomes all the more profitable the more you get people buying service off of it.”
Google entered the Kansas City market in 2012, stringing fiber optic lines directly to homes for Internet speeds previously available only to very large customers. It was the first market that Google entered with its home Internet service. It’s now selling the same product in Austin, Texas, and Provo, Utah, and has announced expansion to several other markets.
Its top-end service promises broadband speeds of one gigabit per second — nearing 100 times the national norm for home Internet connections.
The California company also triggered a speed and price war in Kansas City not matched elsewhere in the country.
Time Warner Cable still dominates the market. After Google’s arrival, it cranked up speeds without raising its Internet service rates.
AT&T has begun to match Google’s gigabit-per-second Internet speeds and, effectively, the prices it offers in Kansas City, but only in limited neighborhoods.
Consolidated Communications has also matched the speed and prices to small parts of its Johnson County footprint. Yet executives at that company, formerly known as SureWest, say the vast majority of customers choose cheaper service and speeds of 50 to 100 megabits per second.