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New report finds city's broadband market sub-par

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Costlier, slower, more limited: It is bringing back memories of the teacher comment section on my report cards.

Well, this is a report card of sorts, and "costlier, slower, more limited" is the key phrase in a new study of the city’s Internet broadband market. A consulting team hired by Lawrence City Hall found that the current broadband offerings in Lawrence generally are “costlier, slower and more limited than in other comparable communities.”

Fixing that situation, however, won’t be easy. Every once in a while the idea of the city owning and operating its own high-speed Internet broadband network is brought up. In other words, the city would jump into the Internet service provider market, and compete with the likes of Knology, AT&T and others. But the city would do it with high-speed, fiber-optic cable that runs directly to homes and businesses, as opposed to the slower, more traditional copper telephone and cable lines that serve much of Lawrence.

The idea is a recurring dream for technology geeks. But the latest numbers indicate it may be nothing more than a dream for quite some time. The consultants, CTC Technology & Energy, estimate that it will cost upwards of $70 million to build and deploy such a system in the city. That’s not an impossible number — it's about $25 million more than what the city is spending for a library and a recreation center — but the consultants are urging caution in the matter. Their analysis indicates the city would have to capture at least 50 percent of the entire market share in Lawrence to break even. That would be a tough number to reach, the consultants predict.

But there are other ways the city can make itself a more desirable high-speed Internet city – which not surprisingly, the consultants said will be very important in the future. Here’s a look at some of the recommendations:

• The city could spend around $320,000 to $640,000 to complete a 17-mile ring of fiber-optic cable around the city. The fiber would allow city, county, school and university facilities access to higher-speed Internet connections. The consultants say that alone is worth the cost of the project. But if built in the right way, excess capacity on the fiber ring could be leased out to private companies that have an interest in competing against the two large Internet providers in the city — AT&T and Knology. The report found there are at least three companies that have expressed an interest in such an idea: Level 3, Kansas Fiber Network and Wicked Broadband, which already leases some fiber from the city.

• New development regulations could be written that would require builders to install more fiber-optic infrastructure as a part of their projects. Loma Linda, Calif., has created development regulations that require “cable pathways, fiber connections and internal fiber wiring” be installed as part of any major residential or commercial building project. Sandy, Ore., goes even further. It requires developers to install conduit all the way from the public right-of-way to the home, and then deed that conduit to the city. The idea is that when fiber-optic projects reach a neighborhood, the most expensive part of the process already will be complete, courtesy of developers. The report estimates any new regulations would be a “small burden” to developers. We would see about that, but usually new regulations for developers produce something a bit larger than a “small debate” at City Hall.

• Sucking up to Google may be a good idea. The Google Fiber project in Kansas City is all the buzz in the tech world. The consultants said the city should at least make a more serious effort to have Google consider expanding the project to Lawrence. Google recently did announce that it was expanding the service to Olathe. The consultants reached out to the community manager for the Google Fiber project, and she asked that the city send a formal letter of interest to enter into discussions with Google about an expansion.

As for what the report had to say about Lawrence’s existing broadband providers, it wasn’t much different than what many ordinary folks say. The report found AT&T’s offerings are more limited than in several other comparable communities. With Knology, the consultants found the company’s base pricing is reasonably competitive with other markets, but its use of data caps on many plans makes it less competitive. The report didn’t provide any analysis of the recently-announced pilot project by Wicked Broadband to extend fiber to at least one neighborhood in Lawrence.

The report made several other recommendations and findings, but they were of a technical nature that went beyond my “costlier, slower and more limited” mind.

City commissioners will get a chance to digest the report soon. The City Commission is expected to formally receive the report and discuss possible next steps in the next several weeks.

Comments

Hooligan_016 1 year, 7 months ago

Knology/WOW! (whoever is the real owner at this point) needs to do away with archaic data caps.

Not as awful as Time Warner or Comcast, but Knology is steadily getting worse.

del888 1 year, 7 months ago

It always amazes me when the city hires a consulting firm to investigate the obvious. Next time, just walk out on the street and ask the first 100 people for their opinion. They will all tell you that the internet service in this town is poor - and it will save you all that money that you spent on the consulting firm.

flyin_squirrel 1 year, 7 months ago

City should spend the $340k to $620k to complete the fiber loop. Then allow other providers access to the loop for a fee, and possibly make it available for private corps to lease space. The corporations could then buy high speed capacity from a third party provider. Would be a win/win for the city and new corporations needing high speed bandwidth.

Another option would be allowing 3rd party providers access and making them provide High Speed WIFI hotspots along the ring.

Lane Signal 1 year, 7 months ago

I think we need to push for the city to send a formal letter of interest to Google about expanding Google fiber to Lawrence. I don't know if there is much chance of getting them to come to Lawrence, but the service offering is leaps and bounds beyond our current options. Perhaps we can play up the opportunities for KU and encouraging tech related start-ups. Google is looking for good press. The city needs to be able to spin a good story about how expanding to Lawrence will make Google look good.

tomatogrower 1 year, 7 months ago

They could also promote the fact that many customers are students who will end up in other places, so they will spread the word, and want Google fiber there. Knology needs a lot of competition.

Liberty275 1 year, 7 months ago

People are dumping knology for Uverse left and right.

chootspa 1 year, 7 months ago

KU Med is already in the KC fiber area. Bring the rest of the university online.

eljakeo 1 year, 7 months ago

I'm about to move to a city where rent is more than twice what it is here, yet I will be able to get fiber Internet plus cable for less than I am paying Knology for slower Internet alone now. I've looked into AT&T, and it's even worse. There is definitely a competition problem in Lawrence.

gatekeeper 1 year, 7 months ago

We recently switched to ATT Uverse and it is MUCH better than Knology. For the first 2 years, we're paying $85 less per month than what we paid to Knology for cable, phone and internet and once the promo runs out, it's still $35 cheaper per month. My internet service no longer cuts out and is faster.

dinglesmith 1 year, 7 months ago

With the sale of Sunflower to Knology, Lawrence went from a technology leader to a profit center for a large company. Knology and now WOW must be making fortune on Lawrence. No upgrades to infrastructure, no upgrades to in-home equipment, renting horrifically old equipment, no access to services like Watch ESPN, etc. Shame on you WOW.

chootspa 1 year, 7 months ago

Kiss up to Google. Please. If Google isn't interested, we can talk about plan B, but it's silly not to at least try to get them to string some cable over here.

Bursting 1 year, 7 months ago

I'll never forget taking online tests for school and having my internet mysteriously "cut-out" Sunflower, Knology, WOW, all have been sub-par

Joe Adams 1 year, 7 months ago

Hey Chad, Looks like some construction is finally taking place at Wakarusa and 6th St on the open lot next to the Starbucks that just went in. I believe it was originally discussed to be a tire shop but that was a while ago. With them staking out the lot and looking like construction will start, is there any update on the plans for that lot? Still a tire shop?

Thanks!

Lane Signal 1 year, 7 months ago

I'd also like to suggest the city offer incentives to try to bring Google Fiber into Lawrence. Our city government did offer Freenet a sweet deal. They got breaks and use of infrastructure, based, I think, largely on the claim that they were not for profit and would use fees to spread internet access to low income households. It turned out they were more like a not for profit shell around a for profit company that got all the money. The city should look at Google Fiber as an opportunity to make fast (more affordable) internet available. The city also needs to make it clear that WOW, AT&T and Wicked are not going to have a voice in talks about making Google Fiber happen.

Gareth Skarka 1 year, 7 months ago

Wow... It's almost as if letting a single family-operated business have a virtual monopoly on a service that really should be a utility, and then having that family sell to an out-of-state corporation (and a failing one, at that) wasn't a good idea....

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