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Wicked's fast-broadband project moving slower than expected

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Perhaps the community is learning what I've learned on many a white-knuckled trips from the passenger's seat of my wife's Ford Taurus: Speed isn't all it's cracked up to be.

An effort by a local company to bring super-fast Internet service to Lawrence hasn't yet taken off. Kris Adair, president of Lawrence's Wicked Broadband, told me the company's plans to bring 1 gigabit Internet service to a Lawrence neighborhood are uncertain at this point.

"We aren't seeing as much interest as we had expected," Adair said. "We're not giving up on it. We still think it is an amazing project, but we have to have the community buy-in to know that it will be financially feasible."

Wicked Broadband, which is an outgrowth of the former service Lawrence Freenet, announced in April that it was launching a pilot project to bring 1 gigabit service to at least one Lawrence neighborhood this year. The 1 gigabit service is the same kind being installed as part of the Google Fiber project in Kansas City. Just like Google in Kansas City, the neighborhood would be chosen based on how many residents in a particular neighborhood pre-registered for service. Wicked leaders said they planned to announce a winner on June 15.

But Wicked officials pushed that date back to Aug. 15 when it was clear that not enough people had pre-registered in any neighborhood. The Aug. 15 deadline also came and went without an announcement. Adair told me just before the deadline that the company now hopes to make a decision in September. That decision, however, may be that there is not a neighborhood in Lawrence that is viable for the service currently.

"We're definitely not as close as we would like," Adair said. "We probably need another 40 or 50 households in most neighborhoods to say they are interested."

On its Web site, the company has a listing of pre-registration totals for each neighborhood. It appears that only one neighborhood in the city, the Centennial neighborhood near Lawrence High, has more than 25 households pre-registered. But Wicked estimates that the neighborhood still needs 48 more households or businesses to sign up before it seriously can be considered a candidate for the pilot project.

The neighborhood closest to being feasible is the area around Hillcrest Elementary, just northeast of 15th and Iowa streets. It needs another 24 households to be in the running. (Wicked uses the city's voting precincts to define neighborhood boundaries. Even though the Hillcrest neighborhood doesn't have as many people signed up as Centennial, the percentage of households that have signed up is higher.)

The 1 gigabit Internet service is attracting a lot of attention in Kansas City. The service is being used by people interested in seamless video streaming, video game aficionados and, perhaps most importantly from and economic development standpoint, Internet start-up companies looking to create new applications for the Web.

It wouldn't be fair to say that Lawrence is uninterested in super-fast Internet service. Rather, it may be that the interest is just too spread out. According to Wicked's totals, almost every neighborhood in the city has had households or businesses pre-register for the service. Most areas, though, have had 10 or fewer households. Adair said information out of Kansas City is that once a neighborhood is selected, another 20 percent of households will go ahead and sign up for the service. But Wicked needs a certain density of customers to make the service viable, and thus far no neighborhood has reached that level.

"It is a significant investment, and we really want to make sure the community is interested," Adair said of Wicked's hesitancy to pick a neighborhood.

Households and businesses that have pre-registered have been required to put down a $10 deposit. Adair said those deposits will be refunded if the neighborhood is not chosen.

Also in limbo is the company's request for a $500,000 grant from the city to help bring the high-speed Internet service to Lawrence. Adair said the company hasn't withdrawn the grant request, but that it would not take money from the city unless the project starts to show more interest from the community.

Adair, who also is a Lawrence school board member, said she is not sure what to make of the less-than-expected interest in the service.

"We have been doing a social media blitz but it is not reaching them, or maybe they just aren't as interested as we think they are," Adair said.

We'll see what September brings for the project. As for what it will bring to the passenger's seat of the Taurus, I predict it will produce more white knuckles and an occasional black out.

Comments

Keith Richards 1 year, 4 months ago

The problem is not interest in the service, the problem is hardly anyone in Lawrence trusts Freenet/Wicked. If Google came to town there would be no problem signing up neighborhoods.

Not to mention, what is the purpose of the $10 deposit?

Dbones 1 year, 4 months ago

That and the fact most people have their television bundled

chootspa 1 year, 4 months ago

Exactly.

The $10 deposit is Wicked copying Google's model. Google did this to figure out where to build.

PS - why isn't the city making another offer to get Google out here?

Catalano 1 year, 4 months ago

You wife can stuff way more stuff from her shopping trips into a mini-van than a Taurus.

UltimateGrownup 1 year, 4 months ago

This is not even worth discussing. In asking for $500K to deploy fiber, Wicked de facto is admitting that its effort is a money-losing effort. Even worse, a money-losing effort funded by hard-working taxpayers. For Wicked to ask for goverment money to deploy fast broadband is like Chrysler asking for $500M to build ultra-fast cars, cars that could go 1,000 mph on the streets of Lawrence. The analogy is a solid one, since an HD video stream can be transmitted just fine at maybe 10 Mbps.

kuhusker 1 year, 4 months ago

Your analogy is not accurate. It's more like with broadband, the street is what is being upgraded. Gigabit (like what Google is building in KC) is like a wide, brand new 8-lane superhighway. What we have now in Lawrence is more like, well, like Iowa Street currently looks like!

The applications that use broadband would be like the vehicles on the road, to use this analogy. Iowa Street, even in its crappy state, will let you travel slowly across Lawrence, just like you can usually manage a decent single HD video stream even with our current lousy crop of ISPs in town.

n0mjs 1 year, 4 months ago

Yes, kuhusker is correct regarding the analogy, but there's another part that is unanswered: Has Wicked made any commitments about the size of their road out of town? 8 lane super-highway in town is great, but if it turns into Iowa & 15th when it connects upstream, that 8-lane super is going to be pretty worthless.

UltimateGrownup 1 year, 4 months ago

kuhusker, if you want super-fast broadband, just buy it. Wow/Knology has a 50 Mbps plan. For practical purposes, there is no difference between 50 Mbps and 1 Gbps. Technically faster, sure, but at that point, the larger gating factor is latency, processor speed, mouse control, and age/condition of the computer. Even 50 Mbps is like using an elephant gun on a mouse for any actual application.

kuhusker 1 year, 4 months ago

Mr. Grownup, I wish I could, but sadly, this is not possible. Wow's best plan is 50 down and 5 up, which is too slow for me, at least on the upstream side.

For VPN and online backup users, you really need at least 20 up to have a satisfying experience, and no ISP in Lawrence provides this. 50 down is OK for a few HD streams (consider also the massive latency and overhead). If you use your internet connection or anything other then watching Netflix and looking at cat pictures, you pretty much have to go with Wow's fastest offering, and that's only good for down, their up is mediocre (like I said).

I would give my left, um, reproductive material repository for a 100/50 connection (or even 50/50, hell, how about 25/25?!) connection. But, nobody will sell me one, for any price in Lawrence!

cowboy 1 year, 4 months ago

Ditto Krichards , Wicked is the same ole freenet , trying to make a living off of government grants , a track record of failure so they can't secure capital , they don't belong in any conversation regarding franchise services in lawrence.

average 1 year, 4 months ago

I signed up for Wicked. I used a one-time-use credit card number for it, because that's seriously about as far as I trust them.

If you believe that Wicked's proposal was what convinced WOW to stop metering (and it wasn't just something they were going to do anyway), I consider the $10 to Wicked as well spent lobbying. Not that I was at risk of hitting the Knology/Sunflower 'gold' cap... but I hated looking over my shoulder on caps and overage fees. I can even be okay with some traffic shaping but hated the cap.

Fiber to the house is overrated. Existing DOCSIS modems can, if you give them enough channels and get fiber 'close enough' (every 50 subscribers or whatever) offer 150/50 level service. Which is really enough for the next decade. Wicked or whoever could overbuild a coax system like that, especially with aerial drops, for a whole lot less than burying fiber. (Even Google isn't burying end-user fiber in KC... that's absurdly expensive). The business problem is that WOW could match them, almost instantly, by offering 100Mb+ service on their existing wires (just dedicate a few more channels to DOCSIS).

It's an interesting conundrum. The incumbent cable companies could offer substantially faster service with relatively small investments. Probably match whatever pricing a competitor sets. They don't do that because there's no competition. There isn't any competition, at least in part, because the incumbents could easily keep up if there were competition.

nekansan 1 year, 4 months ago

Exactly Spot on. Our only hope is that the City continue to pressure WOW or whatever they change their name to next week & AT&T to get serious about improving the offering in Lawrence

average 1 year, 4 months ago

I don't hold out much hope for AT&T being real competitors. Not just because I live in the middle of town (few blocks from the Merc) and still can't get better than 'theoretically 6Mbps' (slower than that in reality) DSL from them. Even in places where they have put in U-Verse, 18Mb is pushing the technical envelope of what they can get through their JFK-era lead-soldered wires. Installing newer copper, or fiber, or coax (coax is underrated) would be possible... but has that same huge cost problem that a new entrant would face.

It's not even that 18Mb is too slow (though it's getting to be). If the 18Mb service were cheap enough, people would jump on it. I'd jump on it. But, no profit in that. Heck, a lot of people would be okay with 6Mb DSL... if it were really, really cheap. When inferior service is within $5 of WOW's prices... WOW's gonna win.

Honestly, AT&T would just about rather a big storm come through and cut them free of the whole landline service mess. In many places on the east coast after Hurricane Sandy, Verizon decided not to bother replacing telephone switches at all. If you want a dial-tone phone, you get a box on the side of your house that connects to the Verizon Wireless cell network. No DSL service.

frankfussman 1 year, 4 months ago

I've been with Wicked for a year and I fully appreciate the service. It's good...and it's local. Vote with your money.

IndusRiver 1 year, 4 months ago

Maybe folks are happy with their Wi-fi and Bluetooth wireless capabilities. Maybe they'res not.. Maybe the Journal-World steps up to the plate with a signed agreement and drop some of their (www2) sub-servers if faster I-net were to help carry the load. Those fiber cables in the ground are exactly what el de facto government taps into, btw.

kuhusker 1 year, 4 months ago

The fact that running a "future-proof" communications infrastructure (i.e. fiber) is so unprofitable in the short term but so necessary in the long term for the community overall is a good argument for public funding of the basic infrastructure. We already do this for roads, water and electricity, why not communications?

n0mjs 1 year, 4 months ago

That's a great idea! In fact, the most typical scenario is a municipality overbuilding their own fiber plant and offering standard rates to any commercial telecommunications provider wishing to use them. The trick is, any common carrier can buy capacity at a published rate. That's how the municipality serves the need for economic development without limiting competition. I have no problem putting up my tax dollars to overbuild the city with fiber, but I'd like the common carriers to all have an equal shot at using it -- we get the best of both worlds. Community investment in our future AND making the common carriers compete with each other.

Douglas Thompson 1 year, 4 months ago

Still waiting for Wicked to actually propose something that doesn't involve asking everyone other than Wicked to take a financial risk. We want to do X but to do that, the City must fund it for us. Oh we are going to do Y but to do that the City must give us free access to water towers. A company that won't fund anything themselves is not a company, they are a leech.

intrepidjayhawk 1 year, 4 months ago

Google is where it's at ...We need real companies that have positive balance sheets and a track record of success. I would rather have the city do it themselves as a utility thing than use Wicked.

Mr_Jhawk 1 year, 4 months ago

I don't think they have done an adequate job of getting the word out and communicating the value..."social media blitz"...I'd be interested to see what the reach or awareness is from this blitz. I bet if you did a random poll downtown maybe 1 or 2 out of 10 people would say yes if asked do you know about the wicked fast project?

The video on their home page is about them...not the customer, is boringly slow, and only has ~500 views on youtube...if they had a cool video that communicated their message in 30seconds that might be shared on facebook and reach more people.

Also people respond to social signals, and gamification...how about making it a contest where the first neighborhood that get's enough signups get's service for free for a year! That would create a lot of buzz and action on peoples part.

Bottom line, their message and marketing sucks, the idea is great but the pain is not great enough for people to really take action so they are likely just adopting a if they build it then maybe I'll get around to coming attitude.

my 3cents.

More guerrilla marketing!!!

J_Green 1 year, 4 months ago

It not that they don't communicate the idea , it's that people know this company ,and their past history indicates that they should not be trusted.

IndusRiver 1 year, 4 months ago

Shareholders can get behind Wicked, and there's been no talk about shareholders.

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