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Wicked's fast-broadband project moving slower than expected
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.