Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Commissioners not sold on cost of distributing wireless Internet

July 19, 2006


The idea of providing wireless Internet access to every square inch of Douglas County is appealing to some local leaders.

The price tag for doing it, however, is not.

"Other than the crippling financial costs, I think it would be a wonderful thing," said City Commissioner Sue Hack. "I do think the Internet has the ability to be a great equalizer."

Johnson County leaders have been told it takes about $200,000 to $250,000 per square mile to build a wireless network. With 474 square miles in Douglas County, that would equate to about $95 million.

At those prices, City Commissioner David Schauner isn't advocating such a project. But he does like that some communities are starting to think about widespread wireless. He said it would make sense for governments and the private sector to study providing wireless access along the entire K-10 corridor, if it truly is poised to become the state's next economic engine.

And Schauner said he could make a case that the government - not just the private sector - has a role in providing Internet access to residents.

"I think the Internet ultimately is going to be about as important as having water, electricity and other public utilities," Schauner said. "I do think this has future written all over it.

"And I do think government probably has some role to play. Whether it is making ground available or running it all themselves, I don't know."

Patrick Knorr - general manager for Sunflower Broadband, which is owned by the Journal-World's parent company, The World Company - said there's really no need for government to get into the wireless Internet business.

Sunflower offers 42 hotspots where the public can access the Internet for free.

"I'm not sure people realize that downtown already is almost completely saturated with free wireless Internet access," Knorr said. "I think what needs to happen more is that government needs to work more with private companies to coordinate and promote what the community already has."

For a list of Sunflower Broadband's wireless hotspots, go to

Many communities have done wireless projects as part of public-private partnerships, and most recoup a portion of the costs by charging users to access the network.


Jayhawk226 11 years, 10 months ago

Chicago taking proposals for Wi-Fi network (Crain's) - Mayor Richard M. Daley announced Tuesday that the city will begin taking requests for proposals in turning Chicago into a wireless community.

The Mayor is seeking submissions from private-sector firms that would provide Internet access throughout the city, including free wireless service in Chicago public schools, parks and other public places. The city would allow providers use of its infrastructure, such as street lights and lamp poles, to help in constructing the wireless broadband network.

"In technology, as in too many other areas of our society, there's a wide gap between the haves and have-nots," Mayor Daley said at a Tuesday news conference. "It's known as the digital divide and the people on the wrong side of the divide generally have lower incomes and less education."

Mayor Daley offered $250,000 in grants to help community groups find solutions to provide computers and Internet services to neighborhoods unable to afford the expense and he appointed an advisory panel to oversee the task. Julia Stasch, vice-president of the program on human and community development of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, will chair the advisory panel.

Chicago already offers free wireless Internet access throughout its public library systems as well as at Millennium Park, the Cultural Center and Daley Plaza.

Sounds pretty simple to me...just have other people invest in your community. If it's that great of an area, others will recognize the potential for sure.

bill_priff 11 years, 10 months ago

It is really amazing that Chad can write a story about wireless internet projects and not even mention the wireless internet project that is up and running right here in Lawrence. I guess it just slipped his mind. I'm sure it has nothing to do with The World Company owning Sunflower Broadband.

thomgreen 11 years, 10 months ago

Here comes a suggestion that will surely be shot down, but could this $95 million be subsidized somehow by a small increase in the local sales tax? I know increasing taxes is a dirty suggestion, but it seems like it would be nice to see my taxes going to something substantial that I can see. It also seems like a fair way to do it per say. The transitory population would be paying for something that they use since it would be through a local sales tax instead of an increase on property tax.
Just a suggestion, tear it apart as you wish.

thomgreen 11 years, 10 months ago

I checked out the lawrence freenet, and it is neither free, nor is it wireless. Well, I guess technically it is "wireless", but you have to have their equipment installed on your place of residence. The only way it is "free" is if you qualify as low income, but what is their definition of low income?

alerixon1 11 years, 10 months ago

Lawrence Freenet is working to provide the wireless service for low income housing. Yes, it is only 'free' if you are low income, the organiation is attempting to give back to the section of the population which needs it the most. The prices are comparable and lower than sunflower, and the money goes towards a good cause. Crazy idea.

craigers 11 years, 10 months ago

alex, not to be rude (honestly) but how is it that the low income population needs the internet the most? Just wondering.

As for the idea of the Dg County Wi-Fi, I don't think so. The amount that they would have us pay in increased taxes for this, we could all pay for internet at home. And when the investment is done being paid for, they will keep the taxes the same. I don't see this as a win situation. Especially since so many cell-phone companies provide wireless internet cards that you can use anywhere.

craigers 11 years, 10 months ago

What does the money for those that pay Lawrence Freenet go to? I don't know much about the organization, so if you know I would be grateful for the info. Thanks,

Ken Miller 11 years, 10 months ago

If there is one thing evident over the past 25 years (and this is true over all of history), it's that technology EVOLVES. Five or ten years from now, we may be looking at a completely new way to access information instantly that doesn't involve current wireless technology. So why blow $95 million on a system that most likely will be antiquated in 2020?

monkeyhawk 11 years, 10 months ago

Schauner: "And I do think government probably has some role to play. Whether it is making ground available or running it all themselves, I don't know."

Translation: Government needs to control the internet as much as it needs to control the rest of your life.

The difference between a thief and a politician?

The thief takes your money and runs, the politician takes your money and then hangs around to tell you why you should feel good about it.

conservative 11 years, 10 months ago

I'll support the 95 million for wifi, if they give up the 100 million dollar library. If everyone has access to the internet for free the library becomes even more obsolete.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 10 months ago

"if they give up the 100 million dollar library."

What library is that?

pundit 11 years, 10 months ago

Cable and Telco companies are agressively lobbying for laws and regulatory rulings across the nation to prevent cities and counties from getting into the business. Hmmmmmmmm.

compmd 11 years, 10 months ago

the money that lawrence freenet charges goes to fund internet access for low income families. additionally, they provide internet capable computers to people who otherwise couldn't afford one. your money is going back into the community and not into the coffers of the world company. LFN is a nonprofit organization and has set up its own infrastructure across the city in some of the surrounding area.

conservative 11 years, 10 months ago

Bozo, the library that was 30 million, then 50, then 60, and at last report 75. I'm just getting a jump on the inflation with my 100 million estimate.

bucephalus 11 years, 10 months ago

The problem with WiMax is that the reality is going to differ significantly from the marketing buzz; the insane speeds at huge distances are possible, but only given an ideal set of conditions that includes good line-of-sight, stationary high-gain (read: expensive) antennas on both ends of the connection, etc. etc.

For comparison, 802.11b theoretically caps out at 11Mbps and 802.11a and 802.11g both theoretically cap out at 54Mbps connections (with a "typical" connection speed of 25Mbps) -- but the only time you actually see those speeds is when you're close to the base station and/or have a high-quality directional antenna with a clear line of sight.

In other words, WiMax be faster than 802.11, and it'll have better range, but it's not going to live up to the kind of hype it's been getting.

thomgreen 11 years, 10 months ago

And to think, I still remember working on an Apple IIe trying to make a rocket blast off on my screen.

a_flock_of_jayhawks 11 years, 10 months ago

The problem with the public sector vs. the private sector providing access is not so much the initial investment, but the ongoing investment necessary to update/upgrade the network to the newest technology and service capabilities. If you really believe that a government entity can do this efficiently, long-term, all you need to do is look at the other projects that are under their control that log massive overspending, inefficiency, and provide poor service.

They can commit the taxpayer's money here, but they don't even have a clue what it takes to provide a quality, state-of-the-art service long-term. Better off leaving it to market forces, in my opinion.

The joke about FreeNet is that they were able to use public facilities free of charge and compete with service providers that must pay to use the same infrastructure. I don't think that it is fair to the companies that pay for use of the infrastructure.

alerixon1 11 years, 10 months ago

The basis for providing free internet and computers to low income families is to offer an equal playing field, both for children and adults, to the education afforded by this technology. Because they are a non-profit organization, they are given certain benefits that other companies which pocket profits on their monopoly don't receive. More info at And the pitbull comment was depressing in it's blatant prejudice, and completely irrelavant.

compmd 11 years, 10 months ago

wifi is kind of a misnomer when it comes to describing the service provided by freenet and sunflower canopy. if I'm not mistaken, neither of these services use 802.11 as the transport protocol to get from tower to subscriber. in fact, I believe freenet operates on bands other than the slice of the 2.4 ghz ism band that 802.11b/g is allocated. not sure where sunflower canopy operates.

I'd like to meet whoever it was that said wireless across douglas county would be $95M. They must be funny.

But it doesn't really matter to me, I'm just going to keep my pringles can aimed at my neighbor. :)

fletch 11 years, 10 months ago

Community WiFi is actually what I did my dissertation on. After looking at cases across the country, there are a few qualities a town needs to successfully implement it.

1) A town needs to be relatively "off the grid" as far as high speed internet access goes. A lot of rural towns simply don't have affordable access to cable, dsl, or fios right now.

2) A town needs a proactive city government that doesn't have many other issues on the table. Bascially, the town government needs to focus on this as issue #1, while not getting sidetracked on other problems or projects

3) A town needs a steady tax-base that rarely goes into decline. The investment is a lot (although not nearly as bad as some of the JoCo estimates are) and systems need to be tweaked and upgraded. If a town is perpetually cash strapped, it makes it easier to delay the maintainence or upgrades, which makes the quality of the service go down.

Lawrence doesn't really meet those main criteria. We have a high saturation in high speed access, and for the most part the services are affordable given the average income in town. Our city government is proactive, but has a lot of other issues on the table that would prevent going at this with any steam. Our tax base is good, but not great. We've got a luandry list of other things alraedy on a waiting list to get fixed or started.

The towns that successfully roll out government run community wifi are usually always small towns that have some sort of special income. Many are northeastern villages that see a lot of tourists come through for shopping, sight seeing, and bed and breakfasts. The others are generally small towns in the midwest that are bedroom communities for large manufacturing plants.

Lawrence is better off leaving it to private companies.

Joshua Montgomery 11 years, 10 months ago

Lawrence HAS a city wide WiFi project, it's called Lawrence Freenet. Lawrence Freenet is a non-profit company that is in the process of building a city wide WiFi network for the citizens and government of Lawrence.

As an organization Lawrence Freenet focuses on bringing the internet to low income users. Since most low income users live in apartment complexes, Freenet is currently deploying WiFi coverage in multifamily dwelling units across the city. Complexes covered include Village Square, Stonecrest, the Oaks and many others.

As the organization completes its rollout of high density housing, it will begin to build out a street level WiFi network city wide. What does this mean? As a user you will be able to connect to the internet anywhere in Lawrence using only a WiFi enabled desktop or laptop computer.

Since its inception last year, Lawrence Freenet has deployed over $500,000 worth of equipment on water towers, churches, businesses, apartments and private residences throughout the city.

The organization is also providing service to low income users and organizations like the O'Connell Youth Ranch, Assisted Residential Options and many individuals.

As a non-profit 501c(4) company, Lawrence Freenet has been able to deploy this state of the art network without a single tax payer dollar. Freenet is self supporting through subscription fees charged to users who do not meet the company's low income guidelines.

As the city and the county continue to move forward with new, money saving, technologies Freenet will continue to work with them to reduce costs and provide quality services. For example, did you know that the City Pool is connected to City hall through a Lawrence Freenet connection? No, probably not, because the World Company managed to write a story about city wide wireless access without mentioning the first organization in the State of Kansas to take on the task of building a city wide WiFi network.

Did you know:

Lawrence Freenet was the first organization in Kansas to reach an agreement with Westar energy for deploying WiFi equipment on utility poles.

Lawrence Freenet has been operating for over a year and a half and has been providing data to customers since August 1 of last year.

2 out of every 7 Freenet users do not pay a single penny for access to the internet.

Shortly after Freenet launched its $19 internet service, the World Company launched a $19 service.

Freenet is working to REDUCE the costs of broadband internet by creating ever increasing network capacity.

Freenet activities are covered by many local media outlets such as the Lawrencian, KLWN, KU's Journalism Department, and but NOT by the Journal World and its associated outlets.

Joshua Montgomery 11 years, 10 months ago

BTW: The 95$ number is for all of Douglas County and is inflated. Rolling out WiFi in Lawrence will cost approx. $1.5 Million or roughly as much as streetlights for 5 intersections. We are already 1/3 of the way there.

Linda Endicott 11 years, 10 months ago

What about the other five? Do they have to pay? Why?

Linda Endicott 11 years, 10 months ago

Nobody answered...isn't WiFi more prone to hackers, because it's radio waves?

MyName 11 years, 10 months ago

It's not really more prone to hackers, but it's not hack proof either.

WiFi has a limited range, so the person trying to get into your network has to be near enough to your antenna to access it. Also, if you encrypt the trasmissions, it makes it extrememly hard for other people to read what you are sending/recieving to the antenna. Most websites make sure to encrypt sensitive stuff anyways and that encryption applies to any kind of network you are using.

To put it simply, if you have a firewall, and/or you completely disconnect from the network when you're not using it, it's as safe as any other computer connected to the internet. Also, if you use encryption on the stuff that is sensitive, like you should be doing for a landline anyway, it makes it extemely difficult for someone to hijack any information you send out.

Granted, they are talking about putting this up all over Douglas Co., but they won't be using one big antenna that everyone hooks up to. It will be a bunch of little antennae. So the same rules still apply.

thomgreen 11 years, 10 months ago

$1.5 million sounds a lot better than $95 million, and I still don't see why a sales tax couldn't help in getting this done.

compmd 11 years, 10 months ago

to address the question of security over wifi, it is far simpler to send someone an email with the subject line "important ku basketball news" with a spoofed sender address at and attach a worm with a keylogger and smtp engine that periodically emails everything typed and screenshots back to the attacker. worry about that, not someone breaking your 128-bit wep key.

as far as intercepting traffic goes on a service like lawrence freenet, it would take some serious brains, radio gear, and computing abilities to do. I'm sure most of those people like that in town are already affiliated with freenet.

KsTwister 11 years, 10 months ago

I don't want people to influence what car I drive, how many tv's I own and what internet services I have. Stay out of the private sector, I am doing well without government assistance(or their hands in the pie). Anything costing over $1.50 needs to find itself on a ballot so more people living here can tell when they are being lied to.

fletch 11 years, 10 months ago

One of my friends pointed out that my previous post might have seemed a bit hostile towards communtiy wi-fi. I'm not. I spent months researching it and listening to case studies, so I do have the tendancy to sound jaded on the subject. But I still love community wi-fi. My point was that sometimes governments do it well, sometimes private companies do it well, and sometimes local nonprofits do it well. Austin is a really good example of the city doing a bad job until a nonprofit took it over and did a great job with it with only occasional help from the city.

Rationalanimal 11 years, 10 months ago

I'm amazed the City Communishers are balking at this. $95 Million, thats pocket change these days in Lawrence. Not enough money in the budget, no problem. Just whip out the ole credit card and charge it to the Master Bond. Priceless. Looks like property taxes will be going up $200 instead of $50 with the new eat your vegetables budget.

Has the goose run out of feathers yet?

Susan Mangan 11 years, 10 months ago

Thomgreen - The reason an increase in our sales tax can't be used for this is that Lawrence is already taxed to death and we are at the legal state maximum sales tax allowable. Some arrogant local Kommissioners last year decided that the only "logical" thing to do, since they wanted to raise our taxes, yet again, was to ask the state for an exemption from the legal cap, because, somehow, Lawrence is better than everywhere else and we should be allowed to be taxed beyond everyone else. Fortunately, the people we put in our State House rejected the idea, outright. A lot of people already drive to KC or Topeka to purchase big ticket items to save tens to hundreds of dollars in sales tax. Increase ours even more and that number will just go up. Lawrence will probably lose more money in tax revenue, but Johnson and Shawnee Counties can start looking into that "free wifi" system for their taxpayers...subsidized by Lawrence taxpayers' purchases.

I know it's tempting to add just "a small increase in the local sales tax", but those "small increases" have put us at the highest tax rate in the state and a place many people avoid shopping, because of. Remember those studies several months ago that showed, for every $1 spent by Lawrence residents, out of town, that only $0.94 is spent in Lawrence by out of town residents? That's the net effect of higher tax rates...less revenue.

jayhawks71 11 years, 10 months ago

Surprise Surprise, Patrick Knorr of Sunflower is against it. He advocates working with private industry though. Oh yeah Patrick, I bet that will change when someone like Google comes in and offers to give free wireless access in return for targeted ads. I bet he will raise a stink when that happens, right Patrick? What you want is an exclusive with the government, like you have now (with cable television), to provide the wireless.

I love the conflict of interest in running to Knorr for comment and the LJW publishing it. At least they made it clear that there is a conflict of interest.

black_watch 11 years, 10 months ago

freenet... freenet... oh, right! The lawrence freenet! The not-free one with the outrageous pricing schemes and the loads of equipment they need to drop on your roof. The freenet that doesn't pay anyone who works for it, and the freenet with no clear records obtainable about their "non-profit" status. The only place a specific statute (501c(4)) is mentioned is in a post here, in fact - not on their website.

I strongly support sticking it to corporations by grassroot efforts to install an actually free city-wide wireless network, and other services, as well. Infrastructure should not be for-profit! Corruption and greed already abound in the existing system.

I just don't think these jokers are the folks to do it.

Lawrence has a penchant for organizations claiming to be "free" and not meaning it. The "free" dental clinic that won't treat a buddy of mine, who's teeth are literally rotting out of his head. He can't afford their services. Healthcare Access, the "free" "low-income" clinic. $80 first-time fee. Refused service to a friend of mine with a brown recluse bite half an inch deep and 2 inches in diameter, because she couldn't pay. And now, lawrence "Freenet". Who won't provide service - unless you pay.

I've half a mind to sue the lot of you for misrepresentation. I don't want your money, I just want you to own up to your deceptions publically. All of you.

black_watch 11 years, 10 months ago

One more tidbit. The $95 million price is OUTRAGEOUS. We covered a half-block in my neighborhood in wi-fi for about $300. We had four households using it, and the surrounding fifteen or so could've joined in without a hitch. Our 802.11b/g system is part of a linked network of off-the-shelf wireless routers, signal boosted to maximum legal limits and homemade directional antennas added. If you're interested in details on how we did it, you can contact me - click on my username. It takes a little bit of tech-saavy, yes, but not much. You can split the costs of a DSL line and a few WiFi routers with your neighbors, and for mere -dollars- a month, and dollars that you control, you can all have WiFi broadband. You don't have to give money to Sunflower -or- "Free"net.

dviper 11 years, 10 months ago

The government (local, state, federal) should stay completely out of the internet. The government is already intruding to much into the internet. We already have thousands of failed, mis-managed, and fleecing of taxpayer money projects and social programs at local, state and federal levels. We don't need another one.

This is clearly a private sector service, and will be managed and operated 100 times better by private sector companies.

As most Information Technology professionals know, the initial costs are always dwarfed by the on-going future management, administration, maintenance and upgrades. So, if the government got involved you're looking at a never ending tax, plus continual increases to that tax, whether you use the service or not.

black_watch 11 years, 10 months ago

dviper - so you think that the internet should only be run by a profiteering company, instead?

What social programs have "failed" and are "fleecing taxpayers"? Mis-managed, yes. But that's no call to eliminate them. What good is a government that doesn't take care of its people, anyways?

Are you suggesting we eliminate the government entirely? I certainly don't want a purely militaristic federal government, myself, but we need somebody to keep the playing field level. Otherwise we'll end up in a might-makes-right feudalist society - only with corporations at the top, and CEO's as the new royalty.

Government is a vital function of mankind. Unfortunately, it gets perverted by the greedy and power-hungry so incredibly easily.

Do you think that if a profit-based corporation were in charge that we wouldn't see ever-increasing prices, anyways? Have you filled your gas tank lately? Looked at food prices compared to even ten years ago? Used electricity from WESTAR, who is currently raising our rates to pay for the fraud brought on by their OWN MANAGEMENT?

So, who do you work for, and/or own stock in?

Nice try, but we're smarter than that.

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