The Lawrence City Commission should look with extreme scrutiny on the latest proposal from Community Wireless to provide Internet service to Lawrence residents.
Tuesday, city commissioners will be asked to approve agreements that would make it easier for Community Wireless to expand in the city. One agreement gives Community Wireless the ability to use the city’s right-of-way for communications equipment and lets the company put equipment on city-owned water towers, traffic signals and streetlight poles. In exchange, Community Wireless would pay the city 5 percent of its gross receipts over the 25-year term of the proposed agreement.
A second agreement would give Community Wireless access to 12 strands of city-owned fiber optic cable that will be installed along 23rd Street. The city is installing the fiber, in part, to connect traffic signals along 23rd Street to a central computer system. Community Wireless wants access to the fiber optic cables because it can use them to deliver Internet access to parts of Lawrence. In May, company leaders said the fiber likely would allow them to offer high-speed service to businesses and apartment complexes along the 23rd Street corridor, the Daisy Hill area near Kansas University and perhaps along parts of Sixth Street and Iowa Street. CWC proposes to make a one-time $30,000 payment to the city for use of the fiber, in addition to the previous provision calling for 5 percent of gross revenues to go to the city.
Community Wireless enjoys a convoluted and often-questioned relationship with Lawrence Freenet; it’s impossible to separate what’s a for-profit business from the not-for-profit, and the mere existence of the not-for-profit arm is used to request treatment that competitors, who have invested millions of dollars in infrastructure, don’t get. That relationship comes into play in the current proposal to the city, which is one in a long sequence of attempts by Community Wireless to gain access at a low cost to fiber strands — and gain a competitive foothold without buying or installing fiber.
If the city is interested in selling or leasing 12 strands of fiber, it should bid them out to any interested party. Likewise Community Wireless should pay the same franchise fees as Knology, AT&T, Black Hills Energy and other utilities for the use of city property and right-of-way. There is no justification for any provider to receive special treatment.