After falling behind some cities on the availability of high-speed internet, 2018 will be the year that Lawrence catches up.
Preparations are underway that will allow Midco to offer gigabit internet to all its Lawrence-area customers in the new year, making the high-speed internet available citywide for the first time.
Officials at Midco, which took over WOW phone, cable and internet services last year, said the move brings the city into step with other Midwestern cities that Midco serves.
“Gigabit is available to about 80 percent of all of our customers, and we already have about 5,000 gigabit customers,” Chief Technology Officer Jon Pederson said. “When we purchased the Lawrence system, it was always our goal to get it on par with the rest of our systems, and gigabit is the final step.”
Pederson said changes to Midco’s Lawrence systems will begin this month, and the gigabit internet service will be available to all Lawrence-area customers — including those in Eudora, Linwood, Tonganoxie and Basehor — about June.
Getting fiber internet available throughout Lawrence is one of the "priority initiatives" of the City Commission. The commission set eight initiatives as part of its strategic plan in February. Mayor Leslie Soden said it’s important for Lawrence to have access to fiber internet for the sake of residents and businesses, some of which need to transmit large quantities of data.
“Of course, if we want our businesses to compete with businesses in other cities and even nations, then we need to be on a more even playing field than what we are now,” Soden said.
The availability of fiber internet in Lawrence is limited and almost entirely excludes older neighborhoods in the core of the city. Areas of the University of Kansas have fiber internet, and AT&T generally provides fiber internet to recently constructed homes and apartments. Kwikom Communications, an internet service provider based in Iola, is planning to offer gigabit internet service to businesses, and Baldwin City-based RG Fiber has begun burying fiber optic cable in eastern and central Lawrence. Neither Midco nor WOW has provided the service.
But Soden said availability — of both basic and fiber internet — is only part of the equation. Fiber internet can cost up to $100 per month, and Soden said she would also like to look at ensuring that prices aren’t out of reach for the average citizen or business.
For neighborhoods where AT&T fiber is available, the service costs $80 per month, according to the AT&T website. A spokesperson for AT&T did not provide the Journal-World with how many Lawrence residents have access to AT&T fiber service.
Specifically, AT&T public relations manager Chris Lester said in an emailed statement that Lawrence is included in the company’s Kansas City metro area and that AT&T does not break out the number of locations at a neighborhood or community level. The KC metro area has 130,000 locations with AT&T fiber available and “more planned,” according to the statement.
Pederson said the price for Midco’s gigabit service has not been set for Lawrence yet, but that it offers the service in other cities for about $99 per month. He said residents can rent or purchase the appropriate modem if they want to upgrade to gigabit service.
Pederson said Midco’s gigabit service is a hybrid fiber network that uses about 90 percent fiber lines, with connections to individual neighborhoods made with traditional cable. Fiber lines along the city’s main thoroughfares have been in place for years, but Pederson said since purchasing WOW, Midco has expanded the fiber lines to reach more neighborhoods.
Starting this month, Pederson said Midco will begin phasing out analog video format in favor of digital in preparation for gigabit internet service. He said the digital format — boxes will be provided to those who don’t have them — is more efficient and will free up the needed space for the gigabit service. Pederson said more details would be provided to customers once gigabit internet service is available.