A Lawrence-based nonprofit Internet company is seeking to raise $30,000 to make all of downtown Lawrence a wireless Internet zone that would allow people to access the Web for free.
Joshua Montgomery, founding director of Lawrence Freenet, said the start-up company is working on an agreement with city officials to place devices on city street light poles that would allow anyone with a laptop, BlackBerry or other Internet device to access the Web.
"This will help downtown from a standpoint of reputation," Montgomery said. "It helps encourage people to be downtown and to work downtown. It helps add a technological edge."
Montgomery said the group hopes to raise $30,000 to place transmitter-like devices on 15 to 18 street lamps by June. The devices would allow for the area on Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont streets between Sixth and 11th Streets to become a wireless hotspot. Montgomery said people outside would be able to access the Internet, and he said the signal should be strong enough to reach into many downtown buildings.
City Manager Mike Wildgen said his staff was in discussions with the company to place the devices on city-owned light poles. He said the city would review the plans to ensure that the transmitters - about one foot by two feet in size - wouldn't detract from the historical feel of the downtown area.
"There are design guidelines, but I don't anticipate any problems," Wildgen said.
Lawrence Freenet organizers will host a fundraiser at 7 p.m. tonight at Tanner's Bar and Grill, 1540 Wakarusa Drive, to help fund expansion of the nonprofit Internet provider. The group will charge people $10 per hour to participate in a Quake II video game tournament.
City commissioners previously have directed staff members to work with the group, in part because commissioners said they were supportive of the group's mission, which includes providing Internet access to people who can't afford it and to provide used computers to those in need.
Maria Martin, executive director of Downtown Lawrence Inc. and an owner of Southwest & More, said the downtown group hadn't yet taken a position on the proposal. But she said as a business owner the idea sounded intriguing.
"I think it would be nice for visitors," Martin said. "People shopping downtown could check their e-mail or something real quick."
Wildgen said any agreement with Freenet probably would be modeled after an agreement approved in October to allow the company to place equipment on the city water tower near 19th Street and Kasold Drive. The city allowed the company to place the equipment on the water tower for a $10 per year fee, which is much less than the several thousand dollars the city charges for-profit wireless telephone companies to use the water towers.
Montgomery said Freenet is working on installing the equipment on the Kasold water tower and hopes to begin providing service in the area by Dec. 15. He said Freenet also hopes to reach agreements to place equipment on three other city water towers, if it can raise approximately $100,000.
The company has placed equipment on private property near the Clinton Parkway and Wakarusa Drive area and the 31st Street and Kasold Drive area since announcing its plans in July. Montgomery said the company has 18 accounts that it currently is serving.
The company doesn't charge for its service but does request people who have the ability to pay for the service do so. It requests a $15 per month donation for the service.