Archive for Thursday, May 29, 2014

Editorial: Broadband leap

City officials should look carefully before they leap at a local company’s plan to expand high-speed Internet in Lawrence.

May 29, 2014


There are just too many “ifs” in a local telecommunications company’s proposal for the city of Lawrence to guarantee a $1 million loan to bring 1-gigabit broadband service to parts of east Lawrence and the downtown area.

Every community wants to get on the bandwagon for super-fast Internet service similar to that being offered by Google Fiber in Kansas City, but local officials shouldn’t jump too quickly at the plan being offered by the local Wicked Broadband. The city’s Public Incentives Review Committee narrowly recommended, on a 3-2 vote, approval of the loan guarantee and other incentives for the project, but many questions remain to be answered before the Lawrence City Commission considers the plan, probably in mid-July.

For one thing, the city still is evaluating the information it received in March from four technology companies, including Wicked, who expressed interest in partnering with the city to bring super-fast Internet service to Lawrence. It seems premature for the city even to be considering incentives for the Wicked project before it completes its analysis of what other companies might offer.

The Wicked proposal also raises some concerns of its own. The city may not be making a direct investment in the broadband plan, but the $1 million loan guarantee isn’t without risks if Wicked fails to reach its income projections in east Lawrence and downtown. About a year ago, Wicked unsuccessfully sought to get sufficient pre-registration commitments in any Lawrence neighborhood to justify a pilot project similar to the one they now are proposing to fund with the $1 million loan. The company plans to offer 1-gigabit service for $99 per month plus a $300 installation fee. How many customers in the service area would be willing to pay that much is one of the big “ifs” in the Wicked proposal. If the response falls below what is needed to pay back the $1 million loan, the city could be left on the hook.

The $1 million loan guarantee also is unlikely to be the last request from Wicked. The company estimates it will cost about $30 million to expand 1-gigabit service throughout Lawrence, but other companies have estimated that cost at closer to $70 million. What would the city’s eventual investment in such a system actually be?

PIRC members who voted in support of the Wicked Broadband incentives expressed concerns that Lawrence is “falling further behind” in the race for high-speed Internet service and that high-speed broadband is essential to the city’s future success. Those concerns may or may not be valid, but there’s more than one way to address them. City officials shouldn’t jump at this proposal without thoroughly investigating all of their options, as well as the financial viability of the plan that’s on the table.


David Klamet 4 years ago

Fast internet is not a solution to all problems, but it so clearly a big part of the future for good or ill. The current lackadaisical approach to finding a way to provide it to Lawrence residents is mystifying.

It is difficult to imagine a future where gigabit broadband will not change from becoming the "next cool thing" to a requirement for businesses interested in locating here and people who want to move here.

This town, which prides itself on being progressive, has chosen to expend it's resources on sports parks and libraries, both of which will be used by a minority of residents. I've argued before that the role of libraries (an inherently good idea) will change in ways that are difficult, if not impossible, to predict. It may be, unfortunately, that they will become obsolete, or it may be that they adapt and evolve in ways--at least I--can't predict.

I share the concerns over Wicked's ability to deliver. Providing such a service is not really challenging. Who does it is not important. Getting it done is.

"Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future." (Look up the quote, you have the internet) Deploying fast internet may not be a major issue. Delay may not put Lawrence at a disadvantage. A quote by Peter Drucker says it best. "The best way to predict the future is to create it."

The only challenge here is leadership and vision. Something which is evidently in short supply in Lawrence.

Bruce Bertsch 4 years ago

Interesting that the World Co once had the option of doing this back when they owned Sunflower. Of course that would have required vision and forethought by Dolph. Google is not coming to larryville. At least Wicked is making an attempt to provide this service which is more than the others have to this point.

Mike George 4 years ago

That's not much of a business plan - "...making an attempt to provide this service..." When they are properly capitalized, I would support it.

James Howlette 4 years ago

I heard, from a fairly reliable source, that he was furious when the city made an initial bid for Google Fiber. My guess is that he was already in negotiations to sell off Sunflower.

James Howlette 4 years ago

@David Libraries are evolving into technology hubs and help centers with digital assets as well as printed materials. People go there for help with computers and access to do basic things that they can't do at home, either because they lack the skills or they lack the equipment, and a lot of research databases are still silos that you can only reach from a library website, not things that you can just google from anywhere. It all ties into the need for broadband. It isn't an either or.

Voters also voted directly to support the library's expansion. The sports park was done without explicit voter approval. Big difference.

Richard Heckler 4 years ago

I say Rock Chalk would not have received voter approval….. no way jose' !

David Klamet 4 years ago

I agree that the library was submitted to a vote is an important difference. I question the rationale for a new library and wonder if it wasn't to signal that Lawrence is a progressive city that values education and knowledge. Whether is was an efficient use of city funds in terms of the number of people it serves is another question.

I would support Rock Chalk Park if it served a significant portion of the population and advanced the health and well-being of a significant number of people.

Richard Heckler 4 years ago

If the big names are brought in they bring with them a mentality of controlling the internet basically blocking information selectively. And more NSA spying choices.

They also bring with them high dollar CEO's,golden parachutes and shareholders to keep happy all of which cost consumers too damn much money.

There is no shortage of high speed broadband nor the speed so why not set up 5-gigabit service throughout Lawrence now instead of later? It's there to be had so I've read. Better than being hit up frequently for the "newer and better" annually or so.

If Wicked can install and provide the service without screw ups why not allow Wicked the opportunity?

Is WOW not interested?

Of course no one knows if a super fast internet service will impact Lawrence any different than what we have now. Just people wanting to make more money is how I see it. Way too much speculation.

Who really needs super fast beyond belief internet service? Internet service owners,CEO's,shareholders and golden parachutes?

Mike Silverman 4 years ago

FWIW, WOW has expressed no interest in expanding their broadband offerings in Lawrence to include any type of gigabit internet nor did they respond in any form to the city's RFI.

Mike Silverman 4 years ago

"City officials shouldn’t jump at this proposal without thoroughly investigating all of their options, as well as the financial viability of the plan that’s on the table."

Well, duh.

That's exactly what has been going on for the past several months.

It's not like the PIRC got presented with this proposal out of the blue and said "hey sounds awesome" and voted for it 5 minutes later.

There's been months of discussion, and all 4 of the proposals from the RFI have been extensively evaluated by committees.

The City Commission can debate and vote yes or no for a variety of reasons, but not having enough information is not one of them

Lee Saylor 4 years ago

Forget the "technology future". Fiber high speed broadband will get here eventually, just like private phone and cable has in the past. Sometimes we are ahead of the curve, sometimes behind, but it often evens out in the end.
I question, as have many others, why the city would guarantee a loan to a company that can't pay its current obligation to the city. The concept is great, but the track record of company proposing the concept is not. It has to come down to the business side of the equation.

Greg Thompson 4 years ago

Fiber actually exists here in Lawrence already... and guess what company is providing it... Wicked Broadband. They've been testing paths and technology for several years and have an installed base here in Lawrence. So I'm not sure I understand where the innuendo in this editorial about Wicked not being able to deliver because they already are, right here in Lawrence. Furthermore, the infrastructure being proposed in Wicked's plan if far more flexible and robust than anything being offered nationally. Wicked is a local company that has proposed a plan that clearly has the communities best interest in mind. Ideas like true common carrier provisions combined with multiple fibers to each home make this a long term data infrastructure improvement the city will benefit from for many decades. It will also open the door for other carriers, like WOW or Google to provide competitive services to all homes through the common carrier fiber infrastructure being proposed by Wicked. Which means the city should see many additional companies offering fiber service because there won't be any infrastructure costs associated for competing broadband companies to provide service here in Lawrence and thus the barrier to entry will be very low. That's a game changer in an industry where monopolies are common place. It's possible many new local ISPs designed to service specific niche markets might spring up or even non-profit public service ISPs the Library could even offer their own digital service to each home using the fiber network Wicked has proposed. Overall, Wicked's proposal is unique, encourages competition and would place Lawrence at the epicenter of what could be a revolution in how digital content transits from the cloud into peoples homes. I encourage the City Council to be bold and try this out, it's going to be a huge win for Lawrence in both the near and long terms and we have a chance to prove to the country, Lawrence is open for business and not just a place you come to visit your kids going to KU and see a ball game.

Richard Heckler 4 years ago

By Leslie Soden, Lawrence June 2, 2014

To the editor:

Fiber optic Internet, the fastest speed for Internet access available, is yet another issue our city is struggling to catch up with. Because quality jobs appear where fiber appears, it is definitely an issue deserving of our attention. It also means we should be careful in our next steps in adding it here.

Public incentives: I am very concerned about using public monies for private enterprise and private profit. Let me give an example. At the new construction at Ninth and New Hampshire, we are giving away public money in the form of property tax rebates for private parking. How about a more straightforward course: public money for public parking!

To avoid repeating that kind of financial mistake, and since fiber is crucial to retaining and attracting business, we need to explore making fiber a public utility (like Chanute). If it were a public utility, it would also be a new revenue stream for us.

Installation areas: Hook up our large employment centers first: city hall, county courthouse, the hospital, Kansas University, BTBC Research Extension, VenturePark, East Hills, our high schools and new technical school. If we target these first, it will automatically create a broad net over much of our city. Let’s make those areas our first priority, and residential can be filled in later.

If fiber is truly the new “railroad lines” of our generation, then let’s move forward with this infrastructure in a careful and thoughtful way, with a long-term strategy that serves us well into the future.

Very practical thinking = keeping ownership local

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