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Archive for Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Commissioners agree to help Freenet

Nonprofit Web provider gets go-ahead to use city property

August 17, 2005

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City commissioners are willing to help a Lawrence-based not-for-profit wireless Internet company get started.

Commissioners Tuesday night unanimously directed staff to work with members of Lawrence Freenet to allow the group to place wireless Internet transmitters on city light poles, traffic lights, water towers and city buildings.

"I think this has the possibility to have some astounding benefits to Lawrence," said Mayor Boog Highberger. "I think it will really enhance our image as a town that understands the value of modern communication."

Lawrence Freenet leaders have proposed providing free monthly Internet access - via wireless Internet connections - citywide by January. The all-volunteer group launched the service at the beginning of this month in a 3/8th-mile area surrounding 28th Street and Kasold Drive, and has a dozen subscribers.

Joshua Montgomery, the group's founder, told city commissioners that the city could boost the group's ability to expand by allowing wireless Internet transmission equipment to be mounted on city property.

Wireless telecommunication companies normally pay a fee of $1,000 to $1,500 per month to locate on a water tower or other city property. Other types of utility companies pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in franchise fees to use the city's rights of ways to locate cables and infrastructure. Montgomery asked commissioners to allow Freenet to locate on city property without paying a fee because it is a nonprofit corporation, with a primary goal of bridging the "digital divide" by providing free service to low-income residents.

Commissioners asked whether waiving the fee would create a bad legal precedent for the city. But David Corliss, the city's director of legal services, said he thought it would not because the city could make a case for the community service that a not-for-profit company would provide.

To access the Freenet service, which won't be available to businesses, residents will be required to buy from the company a $150 box that will be attached to the side of their homes to receive the wireless signal. Company leaders say that one-time, $150 charge is the only fee users would have to pay.

But Montgomery said for the group to survive, it will need to receive donations from users who can afford to pay for the service. But Montgomery said the company will send no monthly bills and will not disconnect anyone for a failure to pay. Users won't have to meet an income test to apply.

Officials with competing for-profit companies did not attend Tuesday's meeting, but Patrick Knorr, general manager with Sunflower Broadband, said he had questions about the city's actions.

"I think they (Freenet) are trying to offer service to low-income people, and I think that is a noble cause. But I think anytime when government shows preference to a particular provider, that is concerning," Knorr said. "I would hope they would treat all providers in an even-handed manner."

Sunflower Broadband is owned by The World Company, which also owns the Journal-World. Knorr said Sunflower makes several efforts to provide Internet access to low-income people, including providing free service at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt.

Highberger said he did not think an agreement with Freenet would treat other for-profit companies unfairly.

"I guess I don't expect it to make a significant dent in the for-profits' business," Highberger said.

New fire station gets go-ahead

City commissioners Tuesday night agreed to move ahead with the construction of a new West Lawrence fire station, despite bids coming in nearly $200,000 more than expected.

But before approving the construction of Fire Station No. 4 near 21st Street and Wakarusa Drive, commissioners expressed their displeasure with an architect's cost estimate that turned out to be 9 percent too low.

City Commissioner Mike Amyx was the lone vote against moving forward with the project. He wanted to rebid the project to see whether costs could be brought down.

Other commissioners said rebidding the project likely would not result in a cost savings, but said they also were disappointed in the estimate provided by Lawrence-based Sabatini & Associates Architects. Dan Sabatini, president of the company, said costs to remove rock from the site were much higher than expected. He also said rising fuel prices had put inflationary pressures on the construction industry.

Construction of the station should begin this fall and be completed by late summer of 2006.

No-left-turn policy on 23rd Street expanded

A policy that prohibits left-hand turns off of 23rd Street onto five side streets was renewed and expanded by city commissioners.

Commissioners unanimously agreed to renew a policy that prohibits left hand turns from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday off of 23rd Street onto Ohio, Tennessee, Vermont and New Hampshire streets and Learnard Avenue.

Commissioners also agreed to test a policy that would prohibit left-hand turns at the same locations from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., Monday through Friday.

Carnegie Library to get makeover

Design work will begin on interior renovations for the former Carnegie Library Building at Ninth and Vermont streets.

Commissioners unanimously approved an agreement with Lawrence-based GLPM Architects to design improvements that would bring the historic building up to building and disability codes.

City commissioners will use part of a $98,000 federal grant to pay for the design work, which is expected to cost approximately $70,000. The design work is expected to take about six months to complete.

Commissioners did not discuss how the vacant building should ultimately be used.

Staff members said all the proposed improvements would be needed regardless of the user.

Tax-abatement issue sent back to committee

Commissioners took no action on a request from the city's Public Incentives Review Committee to provide more information on how the city should deal with companies who have received tax abatements but have not produced as many jobs as expected.

Instead, commissioners sent the issue back to the committee to develop specific recommendations on how to deal with the issue. No date was set for the committee to discuss the issue.

Comments

lunacydetector 9 years, 4 months ago

this thing could indeed make a significant dent in for-profits' business.

if these people want to help the poor, why not take donations and pay for a poor person's service? that would be much more cost effective than putting transmitters everywhere. i'm sure they could get some kind of a break from a service provider.

on a side note regarding something totally different: the united way is non-profit. a few years ago the united way got caught paying their executives how much, $400,000 +? that's the one reason i stay away from giving to them, regardless of how much pressure my employer put on me. my office gave out special United Way T-shirts, then they had a "wear your t-shirt day", so those without them REALLY looked the heartless fool.

cutny 9 years, 4 months ago

Sorry, but saying you "make too much money," yet "sometimes you struggle" is an oxymoron. Budget your money better, or admit, that you don't make enough. Of course the World Company is worried. If all anyone has to do is pay a one-time fee, that's a few less piles of money they get to count every month.

Baille 9 years, 4 months ago

"[T]hat would be much more cost effective than putting transmitters everywhere"

That is absolutely untrue, lunacydetector. You are obviously speaking without knowing how they are going to do this. You should take a closer look at their business plan. It is fascinating - and completely workable.

As for Knorr's comments, this type of city action is no different than providing corporations with tax incentives and other types of corporate welfar in order to entice them to locate here - an idea of which the SunflowerBroadband/Journal-World/Simons' folk have been very much in support.

Joshua Montgomery 9 years, 4 months ago

Once again we were disappointed in Mr. Lawhorns choice of focus for his coverage. This is the second time the World Company has covered the growing Lawrence Freenet initiative without mentioning our public service focus. Though the readers of the Journal World might not have ascertained this from the coverage, Lawrence Freenet is serving the community in four ways.

  1. We are building a wireless network to make high speed internet available to everyone, everywhere, all the time, FREE. This include people who could afford to purchase internet access elsewhere.
  2. We are refurbishing donated computers and getting them to people who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford one.
  3. We are working one on one with local teens to give them an opportunity to contribute to the community and to keep them busy on weekends and after school.
  4. We are working to provide free voice mail services for the homeless to enable them to have a number for job applications and to keep in contact with family.

As an organization, we have been glad to receive the support of the city and the citizens of Lawrence. As the project moves out into the community we are looking forward to working with a wide array of organizations to better serve the citizens of Lawrence in a cost effective way.

Building a wireless network of this type is far and away the most cost effective way to serve the community. As a non-profit dedicated to bringing this service to Lawrence, we have several key differences that differentiate our project from a for profit business.

  1. We are looking to provide our service for free. If other, for profit, service providers are willing to serve the entire city for free we would encourage the city to work with them in a similar manner.
  2. We are non-profit and staffed by volunteers. Talk about high salaries, have you ever worked out what World company executives must be making?

As for paying for ongoing service through an existing ISP, lets take a look at some numbers:

Estimated Equipment Costs for rolling out Lawrence Freenet for 32 Users: $4,800 Annual bandwidth, maintenance, service and administrative costs for serving 32 Lawrence Freenet Users: $540

Total Freenet Costs/User/Year Year 1: $166 Total Freenet Costs/User/Year Year 2: $17

Using Traditional ISP with a 50% discount:

Estimated Equipment Costs for rolling out Cable/DSL for 32 Users: $2,400 Annual bandwidth costs at a 50% discount ($15 * 12 * 32): $5,760

Total Traditional Cost/User/Year Year 1: $255 Total Traditional Cost/User/Year Year 2: $180

One can plainly see that the methodology used by Lawrence Freenet is far superior from a cost standpoint.

girly 9 years, 4 months ago

Two concerns:

1.) If the company will depend on 'donations' and payments from users who can afford to pay to stay in business, sounds like they will fail and the $150. the low-income folks paid for the box on their house will be a waste of money.

2.) Sounds very unfair to me for the city to allow this company to have free access to such a valuable location. I also agree that the city should charge for this usage and then subsidize the low-income users if necessary.

Baille 9 years, 4 months ago

"If the company will depend on 'donations' and payments from users who can afford to pay to stay in business, sounds like they will fail and the $150. the low-income folks paid for the box on their house will be a waste of money."

Why do you say that? The donations required to stay solvent are very, very minimal per user. Are you saying that people will take advantage of the situation and not pay as able? That seems to me a very un-Republican view.

"Sounds very unfair to me for the city to allow this company to have free access to such a valuable location. I also agree that the city should charge for this usage and then subsidize the low-income users if necessary."

How is that any less fair than allowing (for profit) companies to get a free rides on taxes, zoning execptions, exemptions from various types of land-use fees, and other forms of corporate welfare? These corporations bring with them jobs, but also burdens and costs associated with th need for a more extensive infrastructure and greater services. These burdens must be borne by the rest of us that pay taxes.

How is it less fair than allowing other non-profits, including churches, to be exempt from many regulations, fees and taxes?

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