Archive for Monday, November 4, 2013

Wicked Broadband hoping for $500k city grant to bring super-fast Internet to downtown, East Lawrence

November 4, 2013


Officials with Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband say they have a plan to provide some of the fastest Internet speeds in the country to downtown Lawrence, but it will require a $500,000 investment from City Hall.

Wicked Broadband officials say they have chosen the downtown area and a portion of East Lawrence to serve as a pilot project to install 1-gigabit service, the same type of super-fast Internet being installed as part of the Google Fiber project in Kansas City.

But the project is far from a done deal. Officials with Wicked Broadband, formerly Lawrence Freenet, said they need an answer from the city on a request for $500,000 in economic development money that they asked for this summer. Without the grant money, Wicked plans to abandon the idea of the pilot project and is likely to put up for sale its existing fiber optic network in the city, said Kris Adair, a co-owner of the company.

"We want to work to make the project successful, but without the city's help we can't make this project successful," Adair said.

Adair said Wicked is willing to raise $500,000 in private capital for the project, but she said lenders want to see that the city is fully supportive of the project before they lend money for the venture.

Wicked Broadband will hold meetings this month to answer questions of residents and businesses in the areas chosen for the pilot project. Meeting times and dates are:

• 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, The Cider Gallery, 810 Pennsylvania St.

• 2:30 p.m. Nov. 10, Hy-Vee, 3504 Clinton Parkway

• 10:30 a.m. Nov. 14, The Cider Gallery

In addition to the downtown and East Lawrence areas, the company plans to make the service available on a limited basis in the area near the water tower along Stratford Road, just west of KU's main campus. It also will offer service in small area just south of Clinton Parkway and Wakarusa Drive.

City commissioners during the past year have expressed an interest in improving the quality of broadband service, but they have not endorsed the idea of providing $500,000 to Wicked.

"I'm not sure this is the direction we should be going," said Commissioner Bob Schumm. "I think it would be a little unusual to hand out a half million dollars to an individual company for a project like this."

Schumm said he's very interested in improving the speed and affordability of Internet service, but if the city is going to make a $500,000 investment it probably should seek proposals from other technology companies to make sure that the city gets the most from its investment.

"But those type of speeds would be a huge plus for downtown," Schumm said.

The pilot project would make the super-fast Internet service available to about 1,100 homes and businesses, Adair estimated. The primary area for service would be between Sixth and 11th Streets from Vermont Street to the Kansas River in East Lawrence.

As part of the project, Wicked would offer the service for free to several large organizations in the downtown or East Lawrence area, including Lawrence City Hall, the Douglas County Courthouse, the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, New York Elementary School and the new Lawrence Public Library.

"Anybody who used the library would have access to the high-speed Internet," said Adair, who also is a member of the Lawrence school board. "It really would make the library more of a benefit to businesses."

Current plans are to offer 1-gigabit residential service for just under $100 per month, with cheaper plans available for 20- to 100-megabit speeds. Current plans call for businesses to be charged a significantly higher rate: About $60 per 10 megabits, although Adair said special pricing could be offered for large Internet users.

Adair hopes the City Commission will consider the $500,000 grant request by the end of the year. Diane Stoddard, an assistant city manager, said staff members are working to prepare a report to commissioners by the end of the year.

She said her office has been gathering information about the proposal since Wicked requested it in May. She said the city has been working to gather information about Wicked's finances. The city also has been looking at how much money the city may be asked to contribute if the pilot project is successful and there is a desire to expand the super-fast service citywide. Consultants have estimated a citywide fiber optic project would cost more than $35 million to install.


Terry Lee 4 years, 7 months ago

So sick of businesses asking for a handout to run their businesses. If you don't have the money then you don't have the business. Pathetic!

Seth Peterson 4 years, 7 months ago

Agreed, I don't understand why people still shop at Wal-Mart, or would have voted for Mitt Romney for these same reasons.

Chuck Woodling 4 years, 7 months ago

An age-old strategy: Ask for the moon, then happily settle for moon pie.

Mike Silverman 4 years, 7 months ago

Lawrence should be investing in infrastructure that will benefit all the citizens of Lawrence as well as make for a more desirable environment for doing business.

Ideally, the City of Lawrence should build its own fiber network and operate it as a "common carrier" leasing it to any business (Wicked, Knology, whoever) who wanted to provide service - kind of how the City builds roads, and then different businesses can run services over those roads (and of course, residents can use the streets for travel too)

Mike Silverman 4 years, 7 months ago

Google is getting massive subsidies in the form of regulatory breaks, right-of-way access, and sped-up approvals worth tens of millions of dollars by Kansas City area communities. I am in favor of these because without it, Google would not have built anything in KC. I hope the leaders of Lawrence have just as much foresight as their KC area colleagues.

Lee Saylor 4 years, 7 months ago

But no grants. It is easy to give right of way access. No money involved. Google offered a service and asked for permission to install in the right of way. They did not ask for money to then install it in the right of way.

Matthew Herbert 4 years, 7 months ago

Please tell me that a majority of commissioners know better than to give away half a million dollars

Matthew Herbert 4 years, 7 months ago

Bob Schumm says it would be nice for Lawrence to get affordable internet in the same paragraph that Wicked mentions $100/month plans. I'm pretty happy with my $19.99 At&T plan and the city didn't have to give the town away for me to get it

Mike Silverman 4 years, 7 months ago

If you are satisfied with mediocrity, that is no reason that anyone else has to be.

Your 20 dollar AT&T plan is the internet equivalent of a kid's bike - fine if all you want to do is ride half a block to the corner store, but not good for much else.

It would be nice if people in Lawrence who wanted to buy the Internet equivalent of a decent automobile (or a work truck to grow their business) had the digital roads to drive them on in our town.

Matthew Herbert 4 years, 7 months ago

My wife runs a highly successful internet business with sales in all 50 states and more countries than I can count using our "kids bike" internet. So, yes, I'm satisfied that $500,000 of our city's money doesn't need to go to enable 6 city blocks to have high speed internet for $100/month

In fact, prior to our switch to AT&T we had used "Lawrence Freenet" (What Wicked WAS called...I wonder why they had to ditch their name??? Most successful businesses don't). We ditched them due to a poor product and exceptionally rude service.

Mike Silverman 4 years, 7 months ago

The speed you get from AT&T for 20 bucks a month is 6 down and 1 up - this is really slow speed, and barely useable for a single stream of HD video (and then only if you are using the connection for nothing else).

I expect an internet connection for the 21st Century to support multiple streams of HD video (at least 6+) simultaneously, along with a VPN to my corporate office, sustained high-speed file transfer in both directions, throw in a few internet radio stream and and online gaming for the kids, some online backup, and yeah, leave room for web surfing and email.

To do all that, you need at least 50-75 mbit down and about 25 up, which even WOW doesn't offer. Nobody offers it, for any price, and thus, people are limited to mediocre "competition"

Your AT&T connection is a slow joke. That's great if your wife can run her business, people ran businesses when the roads were all dirt, too, but I'll take an Interstate highway, thank you.

Seth Peterson 4 years, 7 months ago

Agreed. I finally buckled to the $70-$80 internet package from AT&T just to get decent service, even if it is so far overpriced. I would have snapped my laptop in half if I had to go more than a month on the $20 package before I realized just how terrible it was.

Lawrence Morgan 4 years, 7 months ago

I think it's a great idea to give Wicked a chance to build in Lawrence. After all, Wicked has been speaking and talking about efforts in Lawrence for a long time - what other businesses have? It is important to go with the people who have put their energies and time behind ideas such as this - as compared with the Sports Complex, for instance, whose full dealings still aren't known to this date!

Sorry, Matthew Herbert, but I don't like AT&T at all.

As Brett McCabe suggests, this is a great idea if Lawrence is to become a high-tech city. And I think it can happen here, as well as in Baldwin City.

Please see my blog:

You will notice that, even though the blog had 6 comments, it was never featured on the front page - which is also typical of the Lawrence Journal-World. I suspect that this was not the kind of thinking they hope to encourage. They have completely discouraged citizen journalism, and they apparently want no citizen journalists on their front page under any circumstances.

As I find time, I will be writing much more on all aspects of this opportunity. And by the way, the City Commission turned a blind eye to my idea of "Amos Lawrence Park," even though he was the founder of Lawrence and the thought of him is important as part of a vision for Lawrence, both today and tomorrow.

Julius Nolan 4 years, 7 months ago

If it was a viable project, Wicked wouldn't need taxpayer funding. I'm sure if it was viable, venture capitalists would be throwing money at it.

Mike Silverman 4 years, 7 months ago

We throw tax money at businesses who want to build new buildings, and we (mostly happily) pay for new infrastructure like traffic signals, roads, and so on.

Beator 4 years, 7 months ago

I bet, as soon as the Homeless shelter pays back their loan, Wicked will be able to get their grant.

Matthew Herbert 4 years, 7 months ago

I would attest to that shady bunch comment. Worst customer service I've experienced in 13 years of buying internet access.

Mike Silverman 4 years, 7 months ago

I've had nothing but great experiences with them and their customer service. I guess, as they say, your mileage may vary.

David Barrett 4 years, 7 months ago

So you are saying we should trust $500K in tax dollars to an entity in which "your mileage may vary?"

Seth Peterson 4 years, 7 months ago

I've only used Freenet/Wicked on occasion and never had any problem with them, but if we're worried about shady we don't have to look too hard at AT&T's business practices to find events which I'm sure are much worse.

I like Google as a company, but I don't know if they have ever expressed serious interest in being here.

Joshua Montgomery 4 years, 7 months ago

Now that the LJWorld has revised its policy on anonymous commenters, I'd like to take this opportunity to call "Lane Signal" out.

Mr. "Signal" has created 219 comments on the LJWorld, his linked Facebook profile was created just a couple weeks ago and he this week and he has no Facebook friends. What this indicates is that Mr. "Signal" is actually an anonymous commenter who deliberately deceiving readers by using fake credentials in violation of the LJWorld's revised policy..

In this case I would suggest that Mr. "Signal" is simply a comment troll looking to say outrageous things without being personally accountable.

Regardless of who it is the LJWorld owes it to readers to enforce its policy, identify and shut down these anonymous accounts. If management wants to contact me I'd be happy to make some suggestions as to how this can be done technologically (with minimal human interaction).

Rob Chestnut 4 years, 7 months ago

"We want to work to make the project successful, but without the city's help we can't make this project successful," Adair said.

Adair said Wicked is willing to raise $500,000 in private capital for the project, but she said lenders want to see that the city is fully supportive of the project before they lend money for the venture.

Private capital demands return. There are really two questions that the City should ask regarding this project.

1) What is the economic justification for using economic development funds to invest in this project? If the project can show that it benefits the City tax base over time, then it should be considered. However, I have not seen any benefit-cost analysis.

2) What is the structure of the business as a for-profit venture? If Ms. Adair can raise private capital, it will demand a return. Therefore, is Wicked simply leveraging a City investment in order to produce return for investors?

Investment by a public entity for roads, bridges, water treatment and other enmities is a primary responsibility of municipal government. Providing cheap financing for a venture that is not able to raise private funds based on the economic prospects of the project is not its role.

John Graham 4 years, 7 months ago

I like gadgets as much as the next guy but I have to ask how many people or businesses truly need ultra fast internet? Is it a need or a want? How will this bring real business to town to boost the economy and tax base? Or is this simply a shiny toy to brag to others about while playing video games or surfing porn? If this is such a great thing why can't the business make it work without city money? Why should the city use tax dollars to support a private business? While there was a story about ultra high speed internet in KC I don't remember any actual substantial businesses being started yet that have yielded jobs or substantial increased tax revenue. Granting permits and right of ways is one thing, actually giving $500k so they have operating capital is another. This appears to make no more benefit directly to the city's function than giving Iwig dairy the operating capital they want.

John Graham 4 years, 7 months ago

WOW does not have a monopoly on broadband in Lawrence. AT&T provides service as well to parts of town.

You did not provide any specifics as to what/who would truly need the faster internet to make it as a business that would fail with the current internet speed. I can download large files of documents in a matter of seconds. It is not instant but it is more than fast enough that it does not cause in delay in my work. Truly how huge a difference in productivity does it make for the average user? A couple of minutes over an eight hour work day? Most people waste quite a bit of time (measured in hours) during work based on available stats so what is a few seconds here or there really matter. So who or what type of business truly needs this to function that can't function with current internet speeds and how many of those people exist in the small area they are planning this service. I am not a tech geek but I have heard repeatedly that high end video games require extremely large data files and fast computers to make them work at their peak. If they can play remotely against each other with the current system it would suggest that the current standard isn't too bad. Again is this a true need to be able to make a business work or just a want?

Since Google isn't doing businesses yet in KC there is no local example of ultra fast internet resulting in business growth. What do you think most of those people in KC are doing with the ultra fast cable? So how can anyone say this will help local businesses grow or attract new ones? Those might be reasons for the city to consider being involved. WB has said they can get matching funding of $500k. If they can get that why not get the whole $1M. Because they want a handout from the city without any evidence that ultra fast internet is truly needed to make the current businesses grow or attract new business to town.

Until someone can provide multiple examples of what types of businesses NEED ultra fast internet to make the business work or the business fails I will believe this is a WANT, a shiny new toy to show off without true necessity. This sounds like the geek version of someone saying they need that sports car that can go 0-60 in four seconds with a top speed of 200mph. It will help get them to work faster so they can be more productive. When in truth a normal ford Taurus will do the job just fine.

Mike Silverman 4 years, 7 months ago

At one point we had dial up internet, and now we have broadband - by your logic, we should have stuck with dial-up, there was never a need for broadband. Businesses and home users got along fine in the early 1990s with dial-up speeds.

With your logic, we'd still be using horses to get around.

John Graham 4 years, 7 months ago

Now you missed my point completely. Current download speed even at the lower broadband levels is fast enough to keep up with the average person/business. The old dial up, which I did not recommend if you paid attention, had obvious wait times or significant buffer times which are not present with current broadband. I am simply asking if the current available speed is adequate for the average user why the need for ultra fast downloads. Humans can only work so fast. If you aren't actually being delayed now what good does it do to have downloads 2, 3 or 10 times faster? I was simply asking for someone to provide actual business or personal needs that require the ultra fast downloads to make them viable vs current. I can have a 200mph sports car but I can't truly make use of it's capability. It is simply something to brag about. What do you do that requires the ultra fast downloads? Will it somehow make you more successful? Will it truly save you that much time (something more than a few seconds here or there)? Why should the city get involved unless there is proven substantial benefit to improving business and the tax base?

Mike Silverman 4 years, 7 months ago

The idea is that faster speeds will enable future benefits. One obvious example is 4k video streaming. Multi-point video conference, telepresence, etc.

There's lots of things that are ideas now that will (maybe) be common in 10 or 15 years -- if we build the infrastructure for them now.

All the great broadband stuff we do today was just ideas back in the early 1990s, but thankfully people had the foresight to build today's broadband infrastructure starting 20 years ago, now we are enjoying the fruits of labors that took place in the past.

Why rest on our laurels, better to build now for what we will be doing in 10 years.

John Graham 4 years, 7 months ago

But not with my tax dollars! If it is such a great idea let the company that is going to reap all the profits pay for the infrastructure. The city has no business giving this company tax dollars as a gift.

Mike Silverman 4 years, 7 months ago

I want my tax dollars used for general infrastructure improvements that will benefit our city. Building fiber is the same as building roads, libraries, parks, water treatment plans, fire stations, and so forth. A public debate needs to happen to set priorities, but fundamentally, it is something that benefits the entire community and is a legitimate use of tax dollars.

John Graham 4 years, 7 months ago

You proved my point quite nicely. There will be a very limited number of people that will truly need ultra fast broadband within the area outlined in the article. There is no reasonable expectation of substantial business growth or improvement in the tax base. Therefore the city should stay out of it. If someone wants to come in and do it great for the few that really would benefit but let the company pay not the city.

Mike Silverman 4 years, 7 months ago

Not everyone uses the library…or the dog parks….or the aquatic center…or tennis courts….or many of our roads….etc, etc.

We still build these because having them benefits everyone, even those who don't personally use them, by overall improving our community and making it a better place to live, relocate or start a business.

John Graham 4 years, 7 months ago

The difference is very easy to see. Those items are all controlled by the city. This is handing over money to a private company for seed money so they can run cable then charge us all to make large profits for shareholders of the company. If you can't see the difference then no one can help you.

Zach Davis 4 years, 7 months ago

In 2009 Community Wireless proposed that they would provide video service to the whole city of Lawrence and this request was approved by the KCC

How has that progressed? What has hindered progress? Does Wicked aka Community Wireless still plan to have this completed by June 14th 2014 as stated in the approval document?

And according to Kris Adair herself Wicked is in 1,300,000 + Dollars of debt as of December 2012

I question the whole if they get a $500,00 grant then private funds will match them Who are these donors? And how can the city guarantee that the money doesn't just get swapped?

What strategic and engineering planing has been done with the current infrastructure in the proposed area? How much would be conduit and how much would be utility pole based? What fallback methods does Wicked propose in the case of say an animal chewing through a line?

But most importantly what fallback would the City and Taxpayers have If this proposal fell through and would there be a guarantee that the company would not dissolve itself in the future to emerge as yet another company with the same corporate board?

Greg Thompson 4 years, 7 months ago

I think there's two issues here;

First, should the city invest in building infrastructure of this type? Second, is Wicked Broadband the right partner?

I'll start by giving strong support to the city investing in infrastructure projects, and specifically high speed common carrier fiber, which is exactly the proposal placed in front of them now.

Cities who didn't think it was a good idea to have a highways and railroads, running through or along their boarders lost population to cities who got railroads and highways. Fiber is the conduit of commerce of today. High speed common carrier fiber is a different animal than what most of us know or consider the internet to be today. Unlike other offerings like cable, where the "consumer" is primarily digesting content, fiber allows the "consumer" a content creator. Customers could build small server farms in their dens, studios in their garages and businesses in their bedrooms using fiber. And the landscape is ripe for Lawrentians to take advantage of our talents if we had the conduit to do so. Large cities that will be attracting companies like Google to install fiber (and provide Google incentives to do so) will need content, Google is counting on this. Ads running on content is how Google makes their money. Lawrence has a vibrant artistic, creative and technical community that could serve the needs of areas who are starting to get fiber installed and need content. Kansas City is not that far from us, if we allow our local artists, creators and techies to bleed away into the KC metropolis because we can not provide them the infrastructure they require to build new businesses right here what happens to the character of our city? Having fiber to our homes here in Lawrence will actually allow us to benefit by generating revenue from our content being pushed back into the Google Fiber network using ad revenue. Instead of having our talent drained off to KC we can actually benefit from Google Fiber by feeding content to it right here from our homes. But we need a fiber network immediately to do so.

High speed fiber is exactly the right type of infrastructure project we need to grow our economy without diluting our character. Fiber will allow home brew businesses to establish Lawrence as a hub in the MidWest for creativity and entrepreneurship. If we focus on building Walmarts, factories, apartments and hotels, without balancing the growth of businesses who add and enhance our character, the Lawrence we all know and love is doomed. Fiber is one answer to solving this problem.

Time is of the essence, the Internet is known for brands who "came first", if Lawrence allows time top pass and lets other neighboring cities to have a jump on installing Common Carrier High Speed Fiber networks, we loose. Being first is important when it comes to building brands on the internet, Wicked Fiber offers us a chance to get home grown brands established before we loose our talent to other cities.

Greg Thompson 4 years, 7 months ago

To follow up on my second question: Is Wicked Fiber the right partner?

Question 2, is Wicked Fiber the right answer? I think so. Their approach really is a good one, that allows our community to benefit greatly through the common carrier provisions in their plan. Common carrier means any service provider has access to the network to transport their data to the consumer (or producer in our case). Although Wicked Fiber would be managing and maintaining the network infrastructure for the city, anyone could provide data service on it. Think about this like water pipes to your home that would allow you to purchase City water, Evian or Ozarka, it's your choice. So common carrier means regardless of who manages the fibers who you pay for service is up to you. If you don't want Wicked Broadband service, just buy service from someone else using their fibers.

The Wicked Fiber proposal also means Lawrence doesn't have to wait for something that might never happen, like the expansion of Google fiber... because there's no telling if anyone else will ever come to the fiber party here and if they did, it's unlikely they would offer common carrier provisions, which means another service monopoly for us to deal with. But if we allow Wicked Fiber to build infrastructure now for their products and all they need to do is "connect" to it, it's going to be much more likely others like Google will come to the table to offer service here. This is why the Wicked Fiber project makes so much sense, it encourages providers to hop on and provide service here.

In conclusion, if we went back to the 1800's/1900's and knew that our leaders told the railroad or interstate to bypass our town because we wouldn't provide them an incentive equal to the cost of building a round-a-bout. Wouldn't we all think that was very stupid decision in retrospect? This is our chance to have the most vibrant highway business and commerce has ever seen piped right into our homes and we are debating it... which is healthy, but in the end, it comes down to the cost of building a round-a-bout for the city. I think it makes sense to just to try this and see what happens... how can we afford not to? The stakes we are talking about are much higher than the $500,000 we are worried about spending, we are talking about the loss of talent to nearby cities, just like what happened when the railroad decided to leave a city or the interstate didn't build an off ramp into a town nearly a century before now.

Lawrence Morgan 4 years, 7 months ago

What you say is exactly right. The Wicked Fiber project makes complete sense. It's a wonderful analogy - using highways and towns. As you say, "cities who didn't think it was a good idea to have a highways and railroads, running through or along their boarders lost population to cities who got railroads and highways. Fiber is the conduit of commerce of today." And there's much more to it: silicon valley is overloaded - with traffic, times to get to and from work, huge parking lots, US 101 virtually stalled during parts of the day. The tech companies need to realize, and will, that these jobs need to be shared throughout the United States. Lawrence won't take part in this expansion - including start-ups - unless it has fiber service.

Melissa Porter 4 years, 7 months ago

My husband is dying to move to Kansas City so we can get Google Fiber. Of course, he wants it for movie/TV streaming and gaming, but I honestly would love it as well.

I am required for my business to upload huge files to my websites, which at current rates sometimes takes me hours upon hours. About half of the time, the internet crashes and I have to restart it. It's a pain.

I wish we could get a proposal for Google Fiber here...I think it would do great in our town, especially because of KU. I'm not a huge fan of this Wicked Broadband just sounds shady and I never had any luck with them. I'd just rather have the "real deal" in Google Fiber.

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