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Wicked Broadband launches super-fast Internet portals ahead of city vote; AT&T brings security service to Lawrence

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We are entering that time period where the entire U.S. economy becomes highly dependent on super-fast Internet service. Of course, I’m talking about the fantasy football season, and your ability to quickly drop Kansas City Chiefs players off your roster as they hurt themselves tying their shoelaces. Well, perhaps there are other reasons for gigabit broadband, and now Lawrence residents have a new place to try the super-fast service.

Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband on Sunday launched a new gigabit demonstration site at Z’s Devine Espresso at 23rd and Harper streets. If you are confused about what gigabit service is, it is the same type of super-fast Internet service that Google Fiber is installing in the Kansas City metro. (Now you, too, can download SUV reviews as fast as they do in Johnson County.) Wicked plans to have a second demo site operational — perhaps by the end of today — at the Good Eats restaurant, which you may remember as the former site of the Basil Leaf Cafe near Sixth and Fireside in West Lawrence. Wicked has offered gigabit service at several apartment complexes and other locations around town for some time now, but hasn't been able to widely deploy the service.

But that may change. Get ready to start hearing more about gigabit service in Lawrence. City commissioners are expected to have a vote soon on whether to provide a $1 million loan guarantee to Wicked Broadband to help the company install a pilot project that would bring the super-fast Internet to about 1,200 households primarily in downtown and East Lawrence.

If you remember, the city’s Public Incentives Review Committee back in May recommended the city provide the $1 million loan guarantee and waive several permit and development fees related to the project. But the recommendation from the committee came on a split 3-2 vote, and the issue never had made its way to the full City Commission. But Wicked Broadband co-owner Josh Montgomery said he’s now been told the City Commission plans to hear the issue at its Sept. 9 meeting. (City officials are telling me that date isn't yet set in stone.)

It is still unclear whether the plan has the necessary votes for approval from the commission. Two city commissioners are on the PIRC board, and they were split on the issue. Mayor Mike Amyx voted against the $1 million loan recommendation, while Commissioner Jeremy Farmer supported the plan.

The way the $1 million loan guarantee would work is that Wicked would secure private financing for the project, but if Wicked were to default on the loan, the city would guarantee payment to the bank. In such a scenario, the city would become the owner of the gigabit network installed by Wicked.

But it seems clear that there is also another financial issue for the city to consider. The $1 million project is just a pilot project. Getting gigabit service to 1,200 homes is not the ultimate goal. Montgomery said he believes the pilot project will be successful, and will allow his company to raise about $10 million in private funding for a phase II project that would add 10,000 more homes. Financing for a third phase to add the rest of the city would then follow. It seems that city officials will have to determine whether they believe a successful pilot project will indeed open up that type of private financing, or whether it is likely that any future phases will require public financing.

If the pilot project is approved, Montgomery said he expects construction work to begin in the spring. Current plans call for gigabit service to start at $99 per month. Montgomery also had previously announced that he planned to begin offering video television services through his network across town. He previously described it as 94-channel system that would include all the normal channels available on most cable systems. The service was supposed to be available in June, but Montgomery told me today that he has put that project on hold until he sees whether the city will support the pilot project.

As for the demonstration project at Z’s Divine Espresso, the gigabit service is part of the free hotspot at the coffee shop, so you don’t have to pay a fee to access the service. But you do need either a smartphone or a laptop that has the right equipment to take full advantage of the gigabit speed. In case you are scoring at home, I’m told that is a an 802.11ac enabled-device, which is common on many of the newer smartphones and laptops. But that is just what I’m told. I’m not up on all of this. Heck, I’m just now learning my plan to start Chief’s wide receiver Dwayne Bowe in Week 1 apparently has gone up in smoke.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Here’s another company to keep an eye on when it comes to plans for super-fast Internet service: AT&T. The telecommunications giant was one of four companies that responded in March to the city’s request for proposals on gigabit Internet service. Back then, AT&T said Lawrence was on the list of cities it was studying for gigabit service. Then, not much happened. But it is worth noting that AT&T earlier this month did sign an agreement with the city of Overland Park to begin providing gigabit service to that Johnson County community.

I talked with AT&T spokesman Chris Lester recently, and he said there is still no update on what AT&T may be thinking about Lawrence and the possibility of gigabit service.

AT&T is making news on another front in Lawrence, however. On Friday, AT&T launched Digital Life home security and automation service in Lawrence. The service is basically a home security system that can be upgraded to make your home more automated as well. What do I mean by that? No, I don’t think it has a function that will take out the trash for you, but it does have functions that allow you to close your garage door via your wireless phone or tablet. It also has functions that allow you to use your wireless devices to lock and unlock doors, detect water leaks, control your thermostat, and view security videos of your home.

“If you are a professional who travels a lot, we think it is a pretty interesting product to have,” Lester said. “Or, if you are parents with latch-key kids, it has some nice features. Whenever some one comes to your door, it will take a picture and send you a text with that picture.”

Unlike AT&T’s U-Verse service, which is available only in select areas of Lawrence, Lester said the Digital Life service will be available citywide. Lawrence is the 82nd city in the country that AT&T has launched the service. It looks like this is becoming quite the trend with telecommunications and broadband companies. I also got word that the cable company in Baldwin City — Mediacom Broadband — also launched a similar service there last week.

• UPDATE: At a Kansas City Area Development Council event this evening, the New Zealand-based animal health company Simcro announced it will locate its North American Headquarters in Lawrence. The firm will locate in the Bioscience and Technology Business Center on KU's West Campus. The release says the company will begin hiring new employees immediately, but doesn't provide any details on the number of new employees. Sources have told me job totals initially will be minimal, but will be high-paying positions. I'll try to get you more details on Tuesday.

I’m keeping my ears open for a possible announcement regarding a new animal health sciences company that may locate its headquarters in Lawrence. What I hear at the moment is the number of jobs initially may not be large, but area officials are excited about the company nonetheless because it helps with the community’s efforts to build up a base of animal health sciences companies. This entire area between Columbia, Mo., and Manhattan is being touted as the world’s leading corridor for animal health science companies, and Lawrence leaders are getting more interested all the time in being part of that movement. They are finding that there are a good number of companies that want to be next to Kansas University’s nationally-ranked pharmacy school because much of the research that the pharmacy school does on human health can also be transferred to the animal health field too. My understanding is this latest prospect is interested in locating in the expanded bioscience and technology incubator on KU’s West Campus, which is right across the street from the pharmacy school. Hopefully I’ll have more details for you soon.

Comments

Amy Varoli Elliott 6 months ago

No tax payer money for private businesses, especially those that already owe the city thousands and have never carried thru on their promises.

Philipp Wannemaker 6 months ago

Definitely not for Josh, nor any other private business. If their plan is so good, private financing is available.

Mike Silverman 6 months ago

Providing funding for critical infrastructure is exactly what the city should be doing. Fiber internet would fall in that category. Ideally the city should pay for this themselves and run it as a public utility, like we do our road system, but in lieu of that a partnership with private enterprise is better then the alternative which is that our city gets passed by.

Dave Bonnell 6 months ago

Creating a fiber infrastructure is much more important than just more speed for SUV research. It creates the fiber "roads" that can be used for 10 gigabit, 100 gigabit and even terabit (1000 gigabit) speeds and beyond in the future. Locking this down to a single provider as has been done with our cable system seems a poor choice.

These two articles discuss it better than I can.

Hate Your ISP? Maybe You Need Community Fiber https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2014/07/hate-your-isp-maybe-you-need-community-fiber

How Chattanooga beat Google Fiber by half a decade http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2013/09/17/how-chattanooga-beat-google-fiber-by-half-a-decade/

Today there are nearly 3 billion people on the Internet. Estimates are by 2020-25 the entire 8 billion of us will be one way or another.

When jets replaced trains our area became known as flyover country. Do we really want the same with the Internet? I don't. Google fiber in the KC area is just a beginning.

We need to figure this out and get going already.

Dave Greenbaum 6 months ago

This is a great idea. Unlike other projects, this costs the taxpayers NOTHING. It requires NO PUBLIC FUNDS. It's a loan guarantee...not that much different than your student loans or your mortgage. Gasp! The feds own your education. No, they just agree if you default public and private colleges get paid.

What's awesome about Wicked (disclosure-I'm a customer of Wicked) is they donate Internet to needed community services such as Headquarters Counseling Center that provides local and national access to mental health resources. The city and KU provide money to this worthy private organization: freeing up public money for other charities. Although both AT&T and WOW/Knology/Sunflower refused to donate Internet, Wicked stepped up to the plate.

This loan guarantee (remember--no money is provided to Wicked) allows more Lawrencians to telecommute saving our roads. We're spending some serious money as taxpayers improving roads this summer. The more people that can work from home the better. The limiting factor: internet speed and reliability.

If Wicked fails to make the payment, the city has a network in place that it can provide to Google or sell to another ISP.

I'm always puzzled when everyone wants to "buy local" and wants national companies like Google to come in and sell us service when we're smart enough to do it in Lawrence ourselves. Do we want Google Surveys on EVERYTHING we read online?

Thomas Shorock 6 months ago

"If Wicked fails to make the payment, the city has a network in place that it can provide to Google or sell to another ISP. " "(remember--no money is provided to Wicked)"

Panglossian much?

Look, I'm not saying this is what will happen (heck, I put in my $10 on Wicked), but it's not being absurdly negative to point out scenarios where the city gets burned for the million in loan backing.

Say, Wicked gets about two blocks lit up with bailing-twine-grade fiber, and then drops out (leaving the city with little to show for it). Or, comes back to the city nine months later and says "gee, it was hard getting started... only got a few blocks lit... can we get another million or two in backing... wouldn't you hate to lose that first investment?". Rinse and repeat.

Dave Greenbaum 6 months ago

Sure, it could happen. the PIRC examined that and determined it was unlikely. Despite fierce competition, including from this newspaper, Freenet/Wicked survived. They've got most of the Greek houses in Lawrence connected to their service.

IF they failed and had to turn the keys over to the city, the city gets a steady stream of income with infrastructure already in place that could be sold to AT&T, WOW, Google or another provider. Or the city joins a list of municipalities providing Internet service.

Lori Nation 6 months ago

I vote NO their customer service sucks, and the internet service we had was always slow and kicked us off. We have had great service with Knology and is cheaper.

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