Google this: Beat Kansas City.
Lawrence city commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting unanimously directed staff to start negotiating an agreement with the operator of Lawrence Freenet to provide more high-speed Internet access in the city.
In fact, several city commissioners said they hope the deal can be put together so quickly that some Lawrence businesses and residences have access to superfast 1-Gbps Internet service months before Google’s much-ballyhooed project in Kansas City.
“I think the digital divide in the future will be about communities that have high-speed Internet and those that don’t,” City Commissioner Mike Dever said. “We’ll have communities to the east of us that will have some of the best technology in the world. This is our offensive movement.”
Commissioners directed staff members to begin negotiations with Community Wireless Communications — the for-profit operator of Lawrence Freenet — to allow the company to access city-owned fiber optic cables along 23rd Street. Exact terms of the deal weren’t finalized at Tuesday’s meeting, but commissioners suggested a deal that would allow Community Wireless to lease about 5 percent of the fiber’s capacity for a one-time payment of $30,000. Community Wireless also would pay the city 5 percent of its annual revenues for the right to access the cable and for the right to locate wireless Internet equipment on some pieces of city infrastructure.
Community Wireless president Joshua Montgomery said the deal would give his company the ability to begin offering 1-Gbps Internet service — the same speed Google is planning for Kansas City, Kan. — to some businesses and apartment complexes in the city. Depending on how quickly the deal can be put together, Montgomery is holding out hope that service can be in operation by August — several months before Google’s service is set to begin in 2012.
Unlike in Kansas City, Kan. — and recently it was announced Kansas City, Mo., too — the superfast Internet in Lawrence wouldn’t be available community-wide. But Montgomery said the high-speed Internet could be offered along the entire 23rd Street corridor, the Daisy Hill area near Kansas University and perhaps along parts of Sixth Street and Iowa Street.
Montgomery said he can envision the high-speed Internet being a recruiting tool for businesses looking to locate at the East Hills Business Park or the new business park that the city plans to develop at the former Farmland Industries site on East 23rd Street. He also said he expects the city agreement to be structured in a way that allows a certain amount of the high-speed service to be offered to companies at a reduced rate.
“I think it could end up being a real incentive for companies to locate here,” Montgomery said.
Several city commissioners, in particular, were excited about the possibility of piggybacking on the momentum that is occurring in nearby Kansas City.
“On the economic development side of this, I think the possibilities are almost endless,” City Commissioner Mike Amyx said.
The potential deal did cause an official with major Lawrence Internet provider Knology to raise concerns. Debra Schmidt, interim general manager for Knology’s Lawrence operations, said the deal “may be opening the door to disparate treatment of other for-profit companies.”
City commissioners said they did not think that was the case, but directed staff members to meet with Knology officials to further hear their concerns prior to bringing back the Community Wireless deal for final consideration.
The new deal would replace several deals the city has with the not-for-profit Lawrence Freenet corporation. As part of those deals, the company received below-market rate prices to access city infrastructure in exchange for agreeing to offer about one free Internet account to a low income resident for every 9 paid accounts the company has.
Commissioners said they would like to see some language in the new agreement that commits the for-profit Community Wireless to provide some free service to low-income residents.
In other news, city commissioners:
• Agreed to accept a $150,000 grant from the Kansas Department of Transportation to install fiber along 23rd Street for a project to better synchronize traffic signals on the street. The fiber would be the same fiber used by Community Wireless under the proposed deal. The grant money won’t become available in until July 2012, but commissioners want to explore starting the project now and having the state reimburse the city for its $150,000 in expenses. City staff members were uncertain whether KDOT would agree to that arrangement.
• Set a bid date of June 14 for a pair of projects that will replace aging waterlines along Ninth Street from Tennessee to Vermont streets and along Kentucky Street from 12th to 19th streets. The project is expected to cost about $1.4 million.