It is being billed as Lawrence’s version of Google Fiber — without the Google.
Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband on Tuesday announced that it is launching a pilot project to install in a Lawrence neighborhood the same super-fast 1 gigabit per second Internet service that is garnering national attention for Kansas City and Google.
Wicked Broadband co-owner Joshua Montgomery told a crowd gathered at a Tuesday afternoon announcement party that Lawrence needed to upgrade its Internet infrastructure if it wants to compete for new businesses in the future.
“We’re now right next door to the fastest network in the country,” Montgomery said. “If a startup company is going to choose between Lawrence and Olathe, they are going to choose Olathe because it has the infrastructure.”
Montgomery said Wicked — which has operated under the names Lawrence Freenet and Community Wireless Communications Corp., at various times — will run a contest to determine which Lawrence neighborhood will become the first to have the high-speed service installed.
Similar to how Google chose neighborhoods in Kansas City, residents will be allowed to preregister on Wicked Broadband’s website. The neighborhood with the highest percentage of homes preregistering and paying the $10 registration fee will be chosen as the test neighborhood. The company plans to announce the winner on June 16, and Montgomery said he hopes installation work would begin later this year.
How many other neighborhoods in the city receive the high-speed service will depend on how much demand residents show for the service.
“We think it will be very popular,” Montgomery said. “You’ll be able to engage in commerce and communications in ways you’ve never done before.”
The high-speed service has been touted as having immediate applications in the gaming and entertainment world. Montgomery said a nearly three-minute promotional video for his company took four hours to upload onto the Internet via a traditional connection in Lawrence. On a 1 gigabit connection, it took 45 seconds.
Montgomery said Wicked plans to offer 1 gigabit residential service for $99.98 per month; 100 mbps service for $69.98 per month and 20 mbps service for $49.98 per month. None of the plans will have usage caps, nor will uploading speeds be reduced, Montgomery said.
“We’re going to provide disruptive pricing into the marketplace,” Montgomery said.
Representatives with the two largest Internet providers in the city — Knology and AT&T — said they were still learning the details of the Wicked project.
Debra Schmidt, system manager for Knology, said the company is continuing to make its transition over to WOW, which bought Knology in July.
“We are in the process of looking at all of our products, and we’ll have appropriate responses to what the community needs and wants,” Schmidt said. “We’re just not quite ready to announce anything yet.”
A spokesman with AT&T said the company "welcomed the competition" because it would be good for consumers. He said AT&T has invested about $725 million in its Kansas networks between 2009 and 2012.
"We're committed to working with any metropolitan community to reach agreement on incentives to improve the climate and speed of overall telecommunications infrastructure investment," Chris Lester, a spokesman for AT&T, said.
Wicked currently has about 1,800 customers, primarily businesses or residents in fraternity, sorority or apartment complexes. A few of the customers already have the 1 gigabit service. Montgomery said Wicked would use traditional bank financing to fund the initial phases of the project, and would not be seeking financial assistance from the city.
Wicked’s parent company, Community Wireless Communications, has reached agreements with the city previously that allow Wicked access to city fiber optic or city-owned conduit for fiber optic cables. Montgomery said those agreements have allowed Wicked to reduce the amount of new infrastructure it will have to install for the project.