Keeping up with the Googles of the world will cost a lot of money, and even that may not work.
A national broadband consultant told Lawrence city commissioners Tuesday it likely would cost $40 million to $60 million to bring the superfast 1 gigabit Internet speeds to Lawrence homes that the Google Fiber project currently is providing in the Kansas City metro area.
City commissioners at their weekly meeting showed no inclination to spend those sums of money but directed staff members to come up with a budget plan to add around $500,000 worth of new fiber optic cable to the city’s infrastructure in hopes that it may attract additional private investment.
“With this technology, if you are standing still, you are falling behind,” City Commissioner Bob Schumm said. “If we fall behind on broadband service, we might lose a lot of economic development prospects and as well as some of our existing businesses.”
Commissioners took no final action Tuesday but spent nearly two hours discussing a plan that would involve the city installing conduit and fiber to complete a 17-mile ring of fiber optic cable around the city. Much of the ring is already built, but gaps remain in the northwest portion of the city. The city-hired consultant — CTC Technology & Energy — estimated it would cost $320,000 to $640,000 to complete the ring.
Mayor Mike Dever said he expected the project to come up this summer as part of the city’s 2014 budget discussions. He also said he expects to approach Kansas University and other large data users about sharing in the costs of the project.
The project would allow city-owned facilities to have quicker and more efficient Internet connections, CTC consultants said, but the bigger payoff could be that the new fiber ring may entice additional private companies to enter the Lawrence broadband market. In other communities, private companies have negotiated favorable leases with cities to access the excess capacity on city-owned fiber rings.
But whether such a project could spur a company to create Lawrence’s own version of a Google Fiber project — something that brings superfast speeds to homes and businesses — is still very much an open question.
“When we talk about those type of public-private partnerships, we are in the Wild West right now,” said Joanne Hovis, president of CTC Technology. “The concept is very, very new.”
Lawrence may lose some companies to Kansas City and its Google Fiber project, Hovis said. She said she interviewed Lawrence companies that are examining how much more broadband capacity their businesses could have if they moved from Lawrence to Kansas City.
But Hovis also said Internet service was improving in Lawrence. In April she delivered a report that said Lawrence’s broadband market was “costlier, slower and more limited” than several comparable communities. She said, however, that the decision by cable provider WOW to remove broadband caps on its Lawrence Internet service was a major improvement in the marketplace. She said Lawrence’s broadband service is now on par with most cities of its size.
In other city commission news, commissioners deferred for one week a decision on whether to relocate the city’s downtown transit transfer station to the 800 block of Vermont Street. Commissioners want to see more details about possible parking arrangements for the block.