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.