Downtown Lawrence and parts of East Lawrence are one step closer to getting the same type of super-fast Internet service being offered by Google Fiber in Kansas City.
A city advisory board on Tuesday recommended that the city provide a $1 million loan guarantee for Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband to launch a pilot project in the city.
"The clock is ticking here," said Douglas County Commissioner Mike Gaughan, a member of the city's Public Incentives Review Committee. "We don't need to be falling further behind in getting high-speed Internet into the community."
The incentives review board, however, was split on the issue. It voted 3-2 to recommend approval of the loan guarantee and some other incentives — including use of some city-owned fiber optic cable — for the project. Now the question will go to the Lawrence City Commission, likely in mid-July.
Wicked Broadband, which previously has operated under the brandname Lawrence Freenet, is owned by Lawrence school board member Kris Adair and her husband, Josh Montgomery. Montgomery said he's encouraged by the recommendation from the incentives review committee.
"This project will make Lawrence much more attractive to bringing new businesses to town," he said.
Montgomery said the loan guarantee from the city is critical because it shows other private investors that local officials have confidence in the project. Montgomery said he believes demand will be strong in downtown and the East Lawrence area. If the pilot project is successful, he said he is optimistic there will be enough private financing available to extend the super-fast internet service to all of Lawrence. Montgomery is estimating a citywide expansion will cost $30 million.
The project would bring 1 gigabit service to both homes and businesses in the city. That's the same speed that is available through the much publicized Google Fiber project in Kansas City.
Initially, though, the project would only be available to the downtown area, parts of east Lawrence and a small area of west Lawrence near where Montgomery and Adair live.
Montgomery said, if approved, the company plans to offer 1 gigabit residential service for $99 per month, and a slightly slower service for $49 per month. Residents would have to pay a $300 installation fee. Montgomery said Wicked still plans to offer video television service to subscribers as well, likely with rates ranging from about $20 to $50 a month.
The project, however, must still win a key vote from city commissioners. The public incentives committee has two city commissioner on it, and they were split on the issue. Mayor Mike Amyx voted against the plan because he said he wasn't certain the city could afford to make a $1 million loan guarantee.
City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer voted for the plan, saying that high-speed broadband Internet service was going to be a major factor in determining the future success of communities.
"It is an unprecedented investment, but it could bring unprecedented growth and development to the community," Farmer said.